Monday, 23 April 2012

Scottish beer in the USA

Here's some more material scavenged from the Journal of the Scottish Brewing Archive. In this case, Vol. 1, 1998, pages 36 - 37. It relates to William Younger's and J & R Tennent's export trade to the USA in the 19th century.

There's a fascinating twist: most of the excerpts refer to southern states: Savannah (Georgia), Charleston (South Carolina), Mobile (Alabama). That must have been  a problem for Scots brewers a few years later, when the Union side blockaded southern ports during the Civil War.

The reports prove that Scottish brewers often exported their beer bottled rather than in casks. And those bottles could be either stone or glass. Don't be confused by the references to casks. These would have been the dryware barrels in which the bottles were transported, padded with straw.

"Sold the ale a few days ago at $1.50, a low figure but finding the wires mostly green and some bottles rather tart thought it best to sell quickly as it might spoil. It did not look fresh when we received it... Large quantities of ale sold in this market. It does not matter whether stone or glass bottles sent. It should not be too brisk. Better not send over 150-200 casks at one time. If you feel disposed to ship generally then you can keep me supplied."
William Younger & Co.s agent, Charleston, South Carolina, 8th June 1858.

I'm sure plenty of retailers do the same today: sell beer quickly when it's on the turn. "Brisk" refers to the amount of carbonation, i.e very fizzy. I can understand why that could be a problem with a naturally conditioned beer. The older the beer was, the fizzier the beer would get as the yeast continued to work. It seems beer being to fizzy over-conditioned was a common problem:

"Just received 72 casks India from F & T of which 25 stone jugs appear recently imported and will sell without trouble at $1.75, but 42 are unsightly both casks and bottles being dirty and mouldy about the corks and wire. Messrs F & T have probably had it some time [and] it is also too brisk. When a bottle is opened half the ale flies out. We want pale ale and sent sweet, not too brisk, and the best time for arrival is March or April but a little will sell always."
William Younger & Co.s agent, Charleston, South Carolina, 15 November 1858.

Good to discover what beer it was they were exporting (well, one of them). Rather surprisingly, it was Pale Ale. Wasn't that supposed to East not West? I'd sort of assumed that it was Scotch Ales that were shipped to the Americas. Obviously it was more complicated than that. Thinking about it, Pale Ale was developed after American independence. The only way it could have become known in the USA was from British imports.

"I think I see a prospect of a really good business in this country. We must, however, brew a special beer - our Pale Ale is too matured for the winter here (it is bitterly cold just now), but will suit splendidly in summer - some people whom I saw say it is the best beer they have seen. What is wanted for winter is an X4. I remember that, some twenty years ago, we had an excellent business for X4 in the States - New York especially, and Mr Kemp might overhaul some of the old brewing books, as far back as '56 or '57 and brew about 60 hogsheads of the same class of ale - I expect it is the kind of liquor that will also suit Montreal, but I shall see about that when I get there."
Letter from New York, James Marshall to J & R Tennent, 17 December, 1875.

What could they mean by the Pale Ale being too mature for winter? That makes no sense to me. Though I can understand why X4 (presumably XXXX) would go down well in the colder months. It would be a very strong, warming beer, with a gravity somewhere beyond 1100º. The type of beer for which Scotland was famous.

And here's a novel use for empty bottles:

"...many merchants in Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, and New Orleans can recollect the arrival on dock at those cities of five hundred or six hundred barrels by each vessel, regularly, all in stone jugs, and all "Scotch ales" of different strengths.

So great at one time was the quantity imported that the jugs became a nuisance and until this day one may see the pauper's graves at "Magnolia" and "Bonaventure" cemeteries surrounded with Scottish ale bottles, having their necks driven into the ground, and the round stone bottoms forming quite a unique substitute for plain boards or other borderings. "
National Guardian. 27 January, 1899, p11.

Here again you have the juxtaposition of stone jugs and dryware barrels. If that had been bulk beer, I'd have some idea of how much was being imported. But I've no idea of what volume a barrel of stone jugs would contain. Nor what size such casks were.

Note how the article clearly places the importation of Scottish beer in the past. Within living memory, but still in the past. George Younger's North American trade came to an abrupt halt in 1875. What happened then and did it affect other Scottish brewers? I'll need to dig more.


Scoats said...

"Thinking about it, Pale Ale was developed after American independence. The only way it could have become known in the USA was from British imports."

Knowledge of Pale Ale also liking came from Scottish immigrants.

Alan said...

Interesting to see that New York in the mid-1800s had a noticeable taste for XXXX. Seeing the same references elsewhere.

Gary Gillman said...

I would think "too matured" meant, the beer was too dry, from over-long activity in the bottle and possibly secondary activity from brett and other bacteria. Many in North America, familiar with (especially in the early years of craft brewing) iffy bottle-conditioned beer, will recall nearly dry beers that were over-carbonated. Even to this day, it sometimes happens - with imports from various places but almost never Belgium, interestingly - but I never let a dry, cidery beer go to waste, I blend it with some sweeter new beer. It is my equivalent to "such old ale as is found in the brewery..." (i.e., used in provincial English breweries to blend with new porter a la early 1800's).