Tuesday, 29 December 2009

My competition entry

"Arthur died in 1803. His success can be measured by the fact that he left a fortune of £23,000, made after a comparatively brief brewing career.

Arthur II and Benjamin took over the brewery, with Benjamin developing the export trade. In spite of his elevated position at the Bank of Ireland, Arthur II was not keen to pay too much beer duty to the British rulers. At the time, duty was paid on ingredients – malt and hops – not alcohol and Arthur hit upon a cunning plan: if he used a proportion of unmalted and therefore untaxed roasted barley, he could reduce his duty bill.

At a stroke, he improved the revenues of the brewery and, unintentionally, produced a new type of stout: darker and with a powerful character of burnt roasted grain. Purely as a tax dodge, Arthur II invented Dry Irish Stout, a style markedly different from the English versions of porter and stout."

"Black Magic" by Roger Protz.
http://www.tastingbeers.com/school/brewery_focus/12009364.html




See how many places you can find this tale repeated. Awesomely depressing.

26 comments:

Matt said...

A lot of those Google results are of course people lazily repeating the myth word for word on their website without even thinking about whether it's true or not. The interesting question is who came up with the myth. I doubt it's Protz himself, I think he's repeating a story he's heard without checking his facts as well. If I had to guess, I'd put my money on the Guinness marketing department.

At the other end of the beer writing spectrum, Zythophile recently had a post on his blog which accurately explains the roots of porter in London brown beer, he could really teach Protz a thing or two about the command - or indeed use - of primary sources:
http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/the-long-battle-between-ale-and-beer/

The Beer Nut said...

The overall enthusiasm of even the most rabid 'real ale' fanatics for a smoothflow keg full of beer brewed to high gravity from roasted barley syrup and canned hop extract is what depresses me.

If you actively like Guinness you lose your credentials as a judge of beer quality. End bleedin' of.

Barm said...

I am sceptical about the Guinness marketing dept being the source. They'd rather imply that they've been making the same stout since 1759, but as that story's so easily refuted, without actually saying so.

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut, I actively like Guinness. Guinness Special Export. But I never had any credentials anyway. (They were chewed off in a horrific hamster incident.)

The Beer Nut said...

When I refer to a beer as "Guinness" I mean the one that's called "Guinness" without any further qualifications or enhancements. SES may be high-gravity brewed out of cans, but at least they [probably] don't water it down and [definitely] don't pump it full of nitrogen. I have no objection to the surgical reattachment of your credentials.

Anonymous said...

Despite my own disagreements with some of the things Mr. Protz says (I have co-authored some stuff with him), it is not really fair to expect absolute historical accuracy from him. He writes for a living, and you cannot make a living writing stiff, starchy, scientific or historical stuff, full of tables and charts. It at least has to be readable, interesting and entertaining. Accuracy is not the motive for the writing, saleability is.

To get to the bottom of much of the history of brewing you need to know about the art of brewing, social conditions, economic conditions of the time, and much more to avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions. British history is flawed by so called historians jumping to the wrong conclusions because of a lack of contemporary knowledge. This applies to Roman history through to the twentieth century.

An example of that is the myth that we (the British) were short of ammunition when fighting the Spanish Armada; we were not. This myth began because the woman that wrote the authorised schoolbook on Drake did not understand why we were firing (what she called) plough-chains from our cannon. She had a duty to be more accurate - Protz does not.

There were Protz's, Papazians, Zythophiles, Pattinsons, and Wheelers around in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it irks me somewhat when people seem to believe that because it is a hundred-year-old document it must be the truth. Even so, ninety per cent of the time they draw the wrong conclusions or extrapolate scant information. It is always a good idea to attempt to determine the motive for some Victorian writing a brewing book, and his qualifications for doing so. Most of the time mere common-sense will tell you 'No way matey'.

I often draw quite different conclusions to Patto from some of the data that he publishes here. Often, at a glance, I can detect when something, like a recipe, does not look right. Sometimes I mention it, usually I do not. In the end it does not really matter.

All of history is an interpretation. Nobody knows for sure unless the subject is really well documented.

Even the Zythophile document linked to is flawed. It ignores the fact that origins of the terms ale and beer is all to do with language and has bugger all to do with hops. There are dozens of tenth and eleventh-century British documents that use the term beer, and some use ale and beer in the same sentence to mean the same thing. It seems that the Celts used 'beer' and the Saxons 'ale'. It might be the other way round, but I can't be bothered to look it up (that is historical accuracy for you). Anyway, the Lindisfarne Gospels uses the term 'beer' quite frequently, and as they were supposedly Welsh monks (dunno how they got there), I assume that 'beer' stems from the Celtic language.

Any distinction between the terms came later, and even that changed over the years.

Bet that's set the cat among a few pigeons.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, you've gone right to the essence of what this blog is about when you say:

"I often draw quite different conclusions to Patto from some of the data that he publishes here."

That's may aim: to present evidence to be interpreted. Not to provide a definitive interpretation.

zythophile said...

"There are dozens of tenth and eleventh-century British documents that use the term beer, and some use ale and beer in the same sentence to mean the same thing."

Well, no, they don't "use ale and beer in the same sentence to mean the same thing". If you pick the sources apart, it seems pretty obvious from the way the two words are used that ealu (ale) and beór (the word that looks like it ought to mean beer) do in fact refer to different drinks. What beór was is unclear, except that it appears, from some sources, to have been strong and sweet, and the etymologist Christine Fell put together a very good argument 35 years ago for beór and iotys Old Norse equivalent, bjorr being a type of cider, possibly honeyed cider: you can find her thesis set out in an article called "Old English beor" in Leeds Studies in English New Series Vol VII 76-95, 1974. When I blogged about definitions of beer and ale recently I deliberately kept to the past 500 years, saving the previous 1,000 years or so of the words' histories for another time, because it's bloody complicated and involves flinging in a lot of old texts: I'm not going to do it here, either, but to sum up a very long argument, beór can NOT be regarded as the same word as beer, and was NOT used in Old English as a synonym for ealu.

zythophile said...

… and another thing: "It at least has to be readable, interesting and entertaining. Accuracy is not the motive for the writing, saleability is.

That sort of statement makes me very angry: if your motivation isn't accuracy, be off and write fiction, and make no pretence about it. Accuracy has to come first all the time when writing factual pieces, accuracy must ALWAYS be the prime intention of the writing, and without accuracy as your compass you're wasting your own time and everybody else's. It's entirely possible to be both entertaining and accurate, and "well, he's entertaining, and his books sell" is a criminally poor excuse for something filled with easily checkable errors. If people want entertainment masquerading as fact, they can be off and read the Daily Mail.

Mike said...

"Accuracy is not the motive for the writing, saleability is."

That statement reminds me of an old joke, the punch-line of which is: "We know what you are, we are just haggling over price."

Arctic Alchemy said...

Friendly argument aside , I learned something from both Anonymous and Zythophile, fact is.. history is always open to interpretation and perception, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, but don't judge a book by it's cover. I think we all win here.

rod said...

Anon -

"it is not really fair to expect absolute historical accuracy from him. He writes for a living, and you cannot make a living writing stiff, starchy, scientific or historical stuff, full of tables and charts. It at least has to be readable, interesting and entertaining. Accuracy is not the motive for the writing, saleability is.......
She had a duty to be more accurate - Protz does not."

I'm sorry, but this is absolutely disgraceful - Mr Protz is regarded by many, on both sides of the Atlantic, as an expert on beer and it's history, is paid accordingly, and willingly accepts this mantle.
Of course he has a duty to be accurate - and, as has been said, there is no neccessary contradiction for a skilled writer to be both accurate and interesting.

Of course different interpretations can often be put on a given set of facts, but to say that someone who is happy to make a living as an authority on beer (or any subject) has no duty to be as accurate as he possibly can is shameful.
I assume that Mr Protz is a fulltime professional, so let him do the relevant research - Patto has a day job, and look at the sheer volume of research that he is able to do and publish here on this blog.

Barm said...

Would the article be any less entertaining if a sentence followed saying "This is an amusing story, but it can't be true because it was illegal to use unmalted grain at the time." ?

I find the argument that journalists can't be expected to strive for accuracy completely bogus.

zythophile said...

Oh, and a third thing, going back to the original quote:

".. a comparatively brief brewing career"

Arthur Guinness I started brewing in Leixlip in, IIRC, 1756 or thereabouts. If 46 years as a brewer is "comparatively brief", I wonder how many years a long career would have to be. Plus, Arthur II didn't "take over" the brewery when Arthur I died, he had been running it for quite a few years.

Graham Wheeler said...

Told you I'd set a few pigeons fluttering. Just goes to show that I am always right. Ho-ho.

I doubt if it is Protz's personal mission statement to teach history, but to promote beer as a drink. 99.9% of his readers couldn't give a toss about beer history, and those that do wouldn't be reading Protz anyway. At standard page rates there is not much opportunity to do any trawling among 'primary sources'. I doubt if he moved far from his spare bedroom on his visit to St James' Gate. I think he is trying too hard to walk in Jackson's vacated shoes, but that is a different issue.

I suspect that the number of beer writers that have actually seen a 'primary source' could be counted on my ears.

I must admit that I have not read the Protz article in question, and I am probably wrong in this case if it is full of elementary howlers, much of his stuff is, but if it is not meant to be an historical treatise, then you are just as guilty as Protz by criticising it as if it were.

If people in general were really interested in brewing history there would be more books out there that cover it. The reason that there is not is because it doesn't pay; nobody is bothered. Any mention of beer history is an aside to something else, and it is dangerous to treat asides as being factual anyway.

If some of the people doing the howling would publish more books, Protz would not be forced to make bad guesses. He would benefit from spending a couple of days as a brewer's assistant, I admit.

My little home brewing book has been sitting at number two or three in the Amazon hit parade for beer books for the last twelve months. The only book that consistently beats it is the Good Beer Guide. Only two, so called, beer writers that I recognise feature in that list, in the first page anyway (25 books), and they are Protz and Ted Bruning. Protz features twice. He probably features several more times further down the list. He is writing for a market, not to satisfy any personal fetish or to please a handful of anoraks. History is not part of that market. Few people give a toss, and it is not going to impact on anybody's life style if he is wrong. You can't really blame him for that.

Do I detect a hint of jealousy from members of the Beer Writer's Self-appreciation Society? I got the impression that Protz was resentful of Jackson's success when I knew Protz better. Perhaps professional jealousy is a qualification membership.

Zythophile:
Yes, well on the beer and ale thing I was probably guilty of jumping to conclusions. You are probably right about fiction too: I think I found the two following passages in Tolkein's letters to his son. Tolkein too was interested in the origins of the terms, and was probably qualified enough to get somewhere close. I can't find the ruddy book at the moment.

Ol heitir me(eth) mannum en me(eth) Assum bjorr
Ale it is called among men, and among Gods beer
(Old Norse from the Alvismal c950)

He ne drinceth win ne be'or
(Luke 1.15. Lindisfarne Gospels, c1000)

Of course, the Lindisfarne Gospels were written much earlier, they were translated into English around 1000ad.

'but to sum up a very long argument, beór can NOT be regarded as the same word as beer, and was NOT used in Old English as a synonym for ealu.'

How the hell do you know that? We had cultures merging. And does it really matter? When you are going back 1000 years it is difficult to guess with any degree of certainty.

Most history is best guess, based upon the information available to, and skill of the person doing the guessing. Things often turn up that stands things on their head again, and people are forced to make another guess.

I suppose that I'd better go and read that article.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham,

you've explained exactly why I write about beer history.

Alan said...

"...if it is not meant to be an historical treatise, then you are just as guilty as Protz by criticising it as if it were... If people in general were really interested in brewing history there would be more books out there that cover it. The reason that there is not is because it doesn't pay; nobody is bothered. Any mention of beer history is an aside to something else, and it is dangerous to treat asides as being factual anyway."

But then what you are suggesting is Protz's writing (expressly) and your writing (implicitly) is actually full of crap and needs to be taken as such. Should it be considered in anyway quality writing if that is the case?

Sounds a bit like a fraud on readership that you are oddly pleased to be perpetrating to, as you might put it, to promote yourself as a drinks writer instead of aiming to be a good drinks writer. Having used and enjoyed your home brewing book, do I now have to assume you have no integrity, that the ingredients are just randomly picked and that your cloning recommendations are like-wise full of crap?

Maybe that is what is meant by "foremost" beer authority - they are the ones pushing themselves most to the fore.

Alan McLeod
A Good Beer Blog

Mike said...

Graham, if, as you say "99.9% of his readers couldn't give a toss about beer history" why does Protz feel compelled to make it up? Personally, I have never read any of his books (and I've made a mental note to read none of yours as well), but he certainly manages to produce a fair amount of entertainment for those who do care about history. Why does he do that?

You can't have it both ways: beer history is not important, but it must be written about (fictionally).

Thanks for providing this insight into the minds of journalistic whores.

Graham Wheeler said...

After reading the Roger Protz article, I don't think it is that bad. I've seen worse from him. There is stuff in there that I did not know about, and that I have no reason to disbelieve. You have picked on the major passage that might cause a few eyebrows to rise, but very few. Lets put it this way; if it was his entry for a history examination, it would be sufficient to get a pass mark. There is dubious stuff in everybody's writing.

Ron Pattinson said...
'you've explained exactly why I write about beer history.'

Yes, but you do it as a passion. You have a genuine interest in the subject. Enthusiastic amateurs are usually better at this stuff than, so called, historians. Most of your source information is there in black and white. As long a you have enough knowledge of the brewing process to know what is sensible and what is not, then your interpretation will be near enough. The problem comes when your plagiarisers assume that what went on at Barclay's is representative of what went on in Ringwood, Dorchester or Windsor. It might not be.

You are also fortunate in that any gaffs you make are unlikely to be noticed by the superior school-yard bullies. The same goes with my stuff. Usually I am the only person that notices my cock-ups. It now seems that it is a fortunate position to be in.

I can still remember the days when 'beer writers' claimed that 'stale' was spoiled beer being flogged off cheaply. I can also remember the uproar I caused in 1994 when I wrote in 'What's Brewing' that it was nothing of the sort. You would think that I had assassinated The Queen.

Alan said...
Sounds a bit like a fraud on readership that you are oddly pleased to be perpetrating to, as you might put it, to promote yourself as a drinks writer...'

I do not regard myself as 'beer writer'. You will doubtless have detected that I have a certain cynical attitude towards such pretensions, ironically for similar reasons to what Protz is being accused of here.

There is no fraud on anybody's part. Nobody is deliberately inaccurate. I just think that it is unfair to expect everyone that uses the word 'beer' in print to spend hours in archives for the benefit of an 800 word article that is not going to net anywhere near enough to cover the costs. It is like expecting a motor-racing commentator to be a degree-qualified engine designer.

Anyway, the most interesting and the most controversial stuff isn't found in archives. It is the sort of stuff that turns up unexpectedly, and goes unnoticed for years.

Alan also said...
'Having used and enjoyed your home brewing book, do I now have to assume you have no integrity, that the ingredients are just randomly picked and that your cloning recommendations are like-wise full of crap?'

You are in a good position to judge that. I think that the books do exactly what it says on the tin - reliably. The recipes always work, but whether they match the prototype is a matter of opinion, and opinions vary, but are overwhelmingly positive. There is a fair amount of interpretation involved in designing the recipes; and some ingredients that are unavailable in home brewing, usually the specialised sugars, have been substituted with others. So they are not necessarily the exact recipes that the brewers used. But that is not fraud. I hope that I have done exactly what is expected from me. It seems that I have.

Mike said...
'and I've made a mental note to read none of yours as well'

Then it is fortunate for me that it has been Britain's best-selling beer-related book*, consistently for twelve months, without your help. You could have made all the difference.
*GBG excluded.

Thanks for providing this insight into the minds of journalistic whores.

I wait with bated breath for your wholly accurate opus. I promise to buy one; I will keep a weather-eye open for it, or any contribution for that matter - it should be interesting.

zythophile said...

How do I know beór was not used in Old English as a synonym for ealu? Because nowhere where the two words are used together are they used as real equivalents, not even in that quote from the Alvismal, which if you look at the complete verse, rather than quote one line out of context, says of ale that, amongst other names such as "feast draught", "in Hel [sic] it's known as mjo(th)", that is, mead – and I don't think anyone is going to argue on that basis that ale is the same as mead.

Rod said...

Oh. So Anon turns out to be Graham Wheeler, who turns out to be a home brewer. Yet again a home brewer who wants to tell everyone else how to think about beer. In this case, telling the truth about beer's history doesn't matter, and anyway professional journos who set themselves up as experts don't have time to do research. Oh boy.

Home brewers, eh - you've got to love them, haven't you?
This from Florian Kemp, in last November's All About Beer, in an article about all-grain mashing (as aginst just diluting malt extract with hot water) -
"All-grain brew is only inherently better than extract if done well."

A sentence so staggeringly wrong that I nearly entered it in the Papazian Cup.

Alan said...

"I do not regard myself as 'beer writer'. You will doubtless have detected that I have a certain cynical attitude towards such pretensions, ironically for similar reasons to what Protz is being accused of here."

Well if that is the case, I can hardly find fault. I would say that the label "writer" should be one any person could take on easily but if you can't even stomach that, well, who am I to judge. On reflection, I don't really care if your beer recipes are clones or not as I am not so concerned with exactness as tastiness. And the book is certainly useful for that.

Would you say that you are in the "it's only beer camp" because it is something anyone should be able to do at home with a reasonable level of competence?

Alan

Graham Wheeler said...

Alan said...
Would you say that you are in the "it's only beer camp" because it is something anyone should be able to do at home with a reasonable level of competence?

Not sure that I fully understand the question, but if you asking if I am bemused because some people cannot brew decent beer at home, then yes. It really is not that difficult.

In the end it is down to expectations. Whether we like it or not, the vast quantity of beer consumed in Britain is bland, frothy, fizzy-pop. Likewise the home brewing industry is supported by sales of the cheapest and nastiest beer kits with half the fermentables being household sugar. This is why home brewing has such a bad reputation.

If someone thinks that super-chilled, John Smith's Keggyflade is decent beer, there is nothing that will change that attitude. However, by the sheer power of democracy, these people are right (statistically) and we are wrong.

Their expectations are not the same as ours, and although it is wondrous that so many people can have so much bad taste, it has to be accepted that we are in the minority.

Anyway, I can usually be found on Jimsbeerkit using 'Graham' which is probably a more appropriate place for this sort of stuff

Pete Brown said...

"My little home brewing book has been sitting at number two or three in the Amazon hit parade for beer books for the last twelve months. The only book that consistently beats it is the Good Beer Guide. Only two, so called, beer writers that I recognise feature in that list, in the first page anyway (25 books), and they are Protz and Ted Bruning."

Graham, I'm hurt. usually all three of my books are in that list - do you not 'recognise' me as a beer writer?

In my first book I was guilty of the same sins as Roger, I'll admit - I repeated oft-told myths because I thought, well, they're already in books, they must be true.

But see what you think of Hops and Glory (it spent a good few weeks above your book in the charts, though I'll admit it doesn't have the staying power yours does). As a professional beer writer, I consulted many primary sources (time for you to grow a third ear?) I substantially rewrote several aspects of the history of IPA, dispelling many myths - most of which I had previously repeated - along the way. I did this because I wanted to write a definitive account of my favourite beer, and because I thought other people might be interested. And I did it because I thought it was important to be as accurate as I possibly could within a given time frame and word count if I wanted to call myself an authority on the subject. It's not a complete account, because that's not possible. It may not even be entirely accurate. But I'd argue that it's more accurate, and more complete, than any previous work on the topic.

And you know what? There is a demand for it. There is a market for it. Don't take my word for it, phone the Pan Macmillan sales department and ask them how many copies they have left.

Ron Pattinson said...

Pete, spot on.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

I enjoy Protz's writing however I do find the lack of historical rigour unfortunite. Its particulary sad that he keeps repeating tales that are now very definitly shown to be false. There are also often brewing errors in his writing (mentions of added cane sugar resulting in sweet beer, wheat malt providing clarity ect ect)
For the sort of writing Roger does he doesnt need to research like Martyn, Pete or Ron, however it might pay to cast an eye over thier work from time to time and take notes.