Last Call?

Jim Koch, who founded Boston Beer Company in 1984, is an iconic figure within the world of craft beer.  Forbes Magazine refers to Koch as a “founding father of the American craft brewery movement”. There can be little argument that the entire craft beer Continue reading Last Call?

Over-the-Rhine

A few weeks ago I spent the weekend in Cincinnati, OH. My oldest daughter moved there back in February.  She recently graduated from Nursing School at the University of Toledo and is now working as a Registered Nurse at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. I like Continue reading Over-the-Rhine

Moses’ Acquittal

Jackie Robinson is famous in the world of sport for being the first African-American, in the twentieth century, to play Major League baseball. Robinson’s first professional game occurred on April 15, 1947 when he played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers were the only Major League team for whom Robinson played; his final game for them was on October 10, 1956. Among other achievements Robinson was named Major League Rookie of the Year in 1947, chosen as the National League MVP in 1949, and won the World Series with the Dodgers in 1955.

Advertisement for the Blue Stockings vs. Eclipse game that appeared in Louisville’s Journal-Courier newspaper on May 1, 1884

Robinson was not the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, however. On May 1, 1884, sixty-three years before Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers, a twenty-six year old African-American made his Major League debut. His name was Moses Fleetwood Walker and he turned out for the Toledo Blue Stockings in a game against the Louisville Eclipse. The game, in which Fleetwood played catcher, took place at Eclipse Park in Louisville, KY. ; the Eclipse won 5-1.

Moses Fleetwood Walker (back row center) and the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings team

The Toledo Blue Stockings were established, as a minor league team, in 1883. That year they played in the Northwestern League, which they  also managed to win. In 1884 the Blue Stockings joined the American Association. The American Association was an alternative professional baseball league to the National League. The Blue Stockings lasted just one season in the Major Leagues (finishing eighth out of thirteen teams)  and in 1885 were back in the minors, before being disbanded at the end of that season. They played their games at League Park which was located on a city block in downtown Toledo; the block being bounded by Monroe Street, 15th Street, Jefferson Avenue, and 13th Street. This meant that League Park was located just a few blocks northwest of the Fifth Third Field, where the present-day Toledo MudHens currently play.

Moses Fleetwood Walker Ohio Historical Marker

Walker was born in Mount Pleasant, OH on October 7, 1856. He was the third-born son of Moses W. Walker and Caroline O’Harra Walker. In 1879 the Walker family moved to Steubenville, OH and it was probably here that Moses first played baseball. In 1877 Moses enrolled as a student at Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH) where he played catcher and lead-off hitter for the Oberlin College prep team. In 1888 Oberlin fielded its first varsity baseball team, of which Walker was a member. In the final game of the season Oberlin defeated the Univetsity of Michigan, 9-2; so impressed were Michigan with Walker’s performance that they invited him to join their team. So Walker transferred to the University of Michigan in 1882, where he spent his junior year studying Law and playing baseball. The  following year he decided to not return to Michigan, opting instead to sign for the Toledo Blue Stockings. And it was with the Blue Stockings that Walker made history when he became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.

An excerpt of the letter warning the Toledo Blue Stockings not to play Walker in their game against the Richmond Virginians appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer.

As an African-American it is perhaps not surprising to learn that, during his career, Walker faced opposition because of the color of his skin. There were a number of times when opposition players and managers objected to his playing against them. For example, on September 5, 1884 prior to a visit to Richmond, VA Charlie Morton, manager of the Toledo Blue Stockings, received a letter from the Richmond Virginians which contained the following:

Dear Sir: We the undersigned, do hereby warn you not to put up Walker, the Negro catcher, the evenings that you play in Richmond, as we could mention the names of 75 determined men who have sworn to mob Walker if he comes to the ground in a suit. We hope you will listen to our words of warning, so that there will be no trouble: but if you do not, there certainly will be. We only write this to prevent much blood shed, as you alone can prevent.

As it was Walker was released by the Blue Stockings prior to the trip to Richmond and so this particular situation never came to a head. After being released by Toledo, Walker bounced around from one minor league team to another before finally retiring from the game in 1889.

Richard Reed’s painting of Moses Fleetwood Walker inside Fleetwood’s Taproom
Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theatre put on a play about Walker’s murder trial

Although not from Toledo, it was in Toledo that Walker made history. And it is a history of which an growing number of Toledoeans are increasingly aware. And beer is playing a part in this increased awareness of Walker. In April 2016 a new bar opened in downtown Toledo. In honor of Walker, it is called Fleetwood’s Tap Room. It is a bar with a craft beer focus and Fleetwood’s menu includes over one hundred craft beers. One of these beers is called Moses’ Acquital, a Brown Ale brewed exclusively for the tap room by the nearby Black Cloister Brewing Company. The brew is the creation of Black Cloister’s Head Brewmaster Shannon Fink. The name of the beer refers to an event that has its beginnings in Syracuse, NY in April 1891. Walker was walking home from a bar when he was challenged by a group of white men. Words were exchanged, Walker drew a knife, and killed a man by the name of Patrick Murray. Walker was tried for second degree murder; the jury, which was all white, acquitted him; hence the name of the beer.  Interestingly, in 2015 a Chicago theatre, the Black Ensemble Theater, told the story of Walker’s trial in a play. Titled The Trial of Moses “Fleetwood” Walker, the play was met with acclaim from a number of theatre critics, with one describing it as a “brave, honest, and powerful drama”.

Island Sanctuary for the Ghost of Moses

Inside Fleetwood’s Taproom there is a painting of Walker that was done by local artist Richard Reed. The artwork in Fleetwoods is not the only image of Walker you will see in Toledo. There is a wall mural in downtown Toledo that bears his image. Completed  in October 2015, it is the work of artists Natalie Lanese and Douglas Kampfer and is called Island Sanctuary for the Ghost of Moses. The mural, at 19 St. Clair’s Streer, is about a block from Fifth Third Field, home of the MudHens.  Walker is the central figure in the mural, which also includes other Toledo-related content such as the city’s High Level Bridge and Mud Hens among the rushes.

In March of this year the Ohio House of Representatives voted 92-0 to designate October 7 (Walker’s birthday) as ‘Moses Fleetwood Walker Day’ throughout the state of Ohio. It still has to be approved by the Senate and the Governor. But if it is, and hopefully it will, this will be a fitting tribute to a great Ohioan.

Further Reading:

Zang, David W. 1995. Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer. Omaha, NE; University of Nebraska Press.

Acknowledgement: Thank you to my friend and colleague Peggy Gripshover of Western Kentucky University for providing me with old newspaper articles about Moses Fleetwood Walker.

Guid Ale Comes and Guid Ale Goes

Back in January I participated in an evening celebrating the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Burns is the National Poet of Scotland. Every year, Scots and non-Scots alike gather on or around January 25 (Burns’s Birthday) to commemorate the life of this literary genius. Growing up in Scotland I cannot recall a time when I was not aware of Burns and his poetry. At the very least, a rudimentary knowledge of Burns seems to be part of the Scottish DNA.

Whateverandeveramen celebrated the life and poetry of Robert Burns in Seattle, WA and Toledo, OH
Whateverandeveramen sing the songs of Robert Burns at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH

The celebration was held at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in downtown Toledo, OH. The evening was organized by Brad Pierson who is Director of Choral Activities at the University of Toledo. Brad is a Burns aficionado. He has been organizing Burns’ celebrations since 2014. He started doing so in Seattle, WA while he was in graduate school. This year, in addition to the event in Toledo, Brad organized two other celebrations, both in Seattle. The fact that Brad chose the Black Cloister for his first Toledo Burns celebration is no accident. Brad is a craft beer lover and, in fact, one of the Seattle events that he organized was held in Naked City Brewery and Taphouse. Brad is also the founder of Whateverandeveramen, “a project-based ensemble dedicated to the performance of high quality choral literature of varied styles from all musical eras.”

Brad asked me to participate in the evening and to provide some background on the life, times, and poetry of the great man in between the sets performed by Whateverandeveramen. This I was happy to do. My first contribution to the evening was to regale the crowd  with a brief biography of Burns, while at the same time trying to convey why his poetry was, and still is, considered important.

Burns was born on January 25, 1759 (he died in 1796 at the age of thirty-seven) in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire. His father was a tenant farmer; a vocation that Burns later took up himself. He was the oldest of seven children. Burns was educated both at home and in a formal school setting. At age fifteen he discovered a love for poetry, to the extent that he soon started writing poems.  And it was his poetry that would make him famous the world over.

Burns’ poetry was important for a number of reasons. First, he wrote in the Scots language at a time when to do so was highly unpopular in Scottish literary circles. Scotland had entered into political union with England in 1707 and as a result there was a movement afoot to Anglicize Scottish culture and language. This is something that Burns opposed vehemently. He knew the important role that the Scots language played in Scottish identity.  Second,  Burns “used small subjects to express big ideas“. For example, in his poem To a Mouse he makes comparisons between the lives of mice and men. A farmer, plouging his field, accidentally upsets a mouse’s nest. On doing so he apologizes to the mouse; realizing that he has upset the mouse’s plans.  It is at this point that the farmer recognizes that mice, like men, make plans and that these plans can, in a split second be upset. As Burns notes in the poem – “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” –  (translated as “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew”). In Tam ‘o Shanter he suggests that Tam, upon being chased by witches, should perhaps have heeded the advice of his wife and stayed at home (are you listening gentlemen?).

Postage stamps issued by the Soviet Union in 1956 on the 160th anniversary of Burns’ death

Centuries after his death Burns’ work continued to be recognized and have impact. John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men from a line of the Burns’ poem To A Mouse. In 1956 the Soviet Union issued a set of commemorative postage stamps on the 160th anniversary of the poet’s death. In 2008, when asked to name the verse of lyric that had the greatest impact on his life the iconic American artist Bob Dylan identified the poem A Red Red Rose, written by Burns in 1794.

Here I am reciting “Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon”

After some more singing by Whateverandeveramen I got back on stage and recited one of Burns poems – Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon. It was a poem written in 1795, a year before Burns’ death. It tells the story of a farmer and the lengths to which he goes to keep himself supplied with good ale and the price that he sometimes pays for over indulging. The latter included being publicly rebuked by the minister in the local church. Burns lived in post-Reformation Scotland which meant that the Church of Scotland was dominant religious institution. The Church of Scotland, colloquially known as the Kirk, was Presbyterian. It was heavily influenced by the ideas of the French reformer John Calvin and, as a result, was quite puritanical in its outlook. Drinking and drunkeness were most certainly frowned upon; too much beer and you ended up on ‘the stool” in Kirk on a Sunday morning where you would be chastised by the minister in front of the entire congregation.

The individual in Burns’ poem went to great lengths to finance his love of guid ale. He owned six oxen (sax owsen) and found himself selling them one by one (ane by ane). When he had spent that money he sold his stockings (hose) and pawned his shoes (shoon). Drastic steps, but worth it because drinking guid ale lifted his spirits (keeps the heart aboon). It also causes him to meddle with the servant girl (“gars me moop wi’ the servant hizzie”).

Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon

I had sax owsen in a pleugh,
And they drew a’ weel eneugh:
I sell’d them a’ just ane by ane –
Guid ale keeps the heart aboon!

O, guid ale comes, and guid ale goes,
Guid ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon –
Guid ale keeps my heart aboon!

Guid ale hauds me bare and busy,
Gars me moop wi’ the servant hizzie,
Stand i’ the stool when I hae dune –
Guid ale keeps the heart aboon!

O, guid ale comes, and guid ale goes,
Guid ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon –
Guid ale keeps my heart aboon!

Robert Burns Scottish Ale from Belhaven Brewery

The ale for which Burns’ character was willing to go to such lenghths to acquire was known as Scottish Ale (those with an ABV of 6.5% and higher were known as Scotch Ales). Hops were not grown in nineteenth century Scotland; the closest hop fields were in Kent in the south of England.  High transportation made hops cost prohibitive for Scottish brewers; so few were used and with the result that the ales of the period had a sweet, malty character. A number of modern-day breweries produce an ale that commemorates Burns. One of these is Scotland’s Belhaven Brewery who brew a Robert Burns Ale which they describe as a “classic, malty Scottish Ale”.

The evening at the Black Cloister was highly memorable. As a Scot, participating in events liks this affords me an opportunity to reconnect with my cultural roots. I have lived in the United States since 1985; but I still have a strong emotional affinity for the land of my birth. And while I am a passport-carrying American (I became a U.S. citizen in 2003) evenings such as this remind me from whence I came.

 

 

The Upside of Nano Brewing

A few weeks ago I visited a new brewery. Upside Brewing is, according to Google Maps, 9.4 miles from my house. The brewery is located in Sylvania, OH, a suburb of Toledo. Upside opened in September 2016. You’d think that The Beer Professor would know about the opening of a new brewery so close to his home but I did not know of its existence until about a month ago when I read this article in The Toledo Blade. Shame on me, but from what I can tell the brewery opened up without a great deal of fanfare. The Sylvania Advantage had ran a story back in May 2016 about the upcoming opening of the city’s first brewery. But I do not read the suburban community’s newspaper that comes out twice a month.

Upside Brewing is a nano brewery inside J&G Pizza Palace in Sylvania, OH

Upside Brewing is located inside J&G Pizza Palace on Sylvania’s Main Street. J&G’s has been part of the Sylvania landscape since 1971; its current owners, the Dallas family, took over the business in 1979. Along with my wife and two friends I visited J&Gs on a Saturday evening. The place was packed; we waited forty-five minutes for a table. Such waits, especially on a Saturday night, are not unusual apparently. Having been around for over thirty-five years this pizza joint has a loyal customer base; plus it has a relatively small seating capacity. As we stood at the front of the restaurant waiting for our table I watched pizzas being made; many of which were picked up by customers for home consumption – J&Gs was doing a brisk take-out trade.

Upside Brewing is inside J&G Pizza Palace

The evening we were there J&Gs had four of its own beers on draft – Palace Cream Ale, Division Street IPA, Ten Mile Amber Brown Ale, and Bavaricana Witbier. The also had one guest tap – Sunshine Daydream Session Ale from Fat Head’s Brewery in Cleveland, OH. I opted for the Palace Cream Ale with my pizza. The beers are brewed onsite by Nick Dallas, son of owners Mark and Jill Dallas. Dallas  started homebrewing a little over five years ago and now uses a one-barrel brewing system to make J&G’s beers.

Upside falls into the category of a nano brewery. There is no official definition of what constitutes a nano brewery although the generally accepted definition is a brewery that uses a three-barrel brewing system or smaller. Nano breweries produce small amounts of beer. For example, Vine Park Brewing Company in St. Paul, MN brew only six to eight gallons per month.

Nano breweries have a number of advantages over their larger peers. First, they are relatively inexpensive to start and operate. Start-up costs are generally somewhere in the five figures. According to Mark Garrison, a writer for Slate, nano breweries provide “an opportunity for skilled homebrewers to dip a toe into the commercial market, without having to find investors or take on crushing debt to secure the kind of funding required to start a microbrewery or brew pub.” This is especially the case when the nano brewery is an add-on to an existing successful business, as is the case with Upside Brewing. If a nano brewery does have plans to grow, however, a couple of years as a successful nano brewery strengthens the position of the brewer when he or she goes seeking investment to expand.

Long Island Oyster Stout – one of the beers brewed by The Blind Bat Brewery

The small size of nano breweries affords brewers with a lot of latitude to experiment, which is good news for beer drinkers looking for new innovative brews. As noted by Derek Pettie, writing in Beer West, “nano breweries are able to experiment at will because of the low stakes and freedom to, well, brew whatever they want.”  Paul Dlugokencky, owner of of Blind Bat Brewery in Long Island, NY stated “I brew what I’m interested in drinking, as well as what I think might be interesting to brew. At my size, I can afford to take a chance on what might be considered to be an odd or weird beer. Commercial appeal [hasn’t] been a factor in anything I’ve brewed.” A nano brewery allows brewers  to test the market for their beers, while developing a customer base. This reduces the risk should they decide to scale-up and invest in a larger brewing system. Nano breweries also tend to get to know their customers fairly well. According to Tony Ammendolia of Final Gravity Brewing Company in Richmond VA, “being as small as we are allows us to have face-to-face interaction with all of our customers, since the only place you can get our beer is in our tasting room.” Indeed a couple of years as a successful nano brewery strengthens the position of the brewer when he or she goes to seek investment to expand.

Three different models of nano breweries have been identified:

1. Proof of concept. These are started by brewers who have plans for larger scale breweries. However, they refuse to or do not have the capital to invest in a larger brewery. They use the nano brewery to test the market for their beer. One example of such a brewery is 56 Brewing of Minneapolis, MN. They started out in a 700 square foot space in the northeast of the city in 2014. They very quickly outgrew this space and in 2016 vacated it to move to a larger facility. Starting out small, however, proved to be a smart business move according to 56’s co-owner Kerry Johnson. Commenting about their growth strategy Johnson noted that “starting small and building our reputation is a huge asset.” The space that 56 moved into in 2014 had previously been occupied by NorthGate Brewing who, in a similar fashion, vacated it when the space was no longer large enough. After 56 moved out another nano- brewery, Broken Clock Brewing, moved in and are now brewing there.

Chris Harris, owner of The Black Frog Brewery in Toledo, OH

2. Second income. In these cases passionate homebrewers want the best of both worlds – to run a brewery while maintaining the security afforded them by their regular jobs. While keeping their day jobs these individuals brew in the evening or on their days off. The Black Frog Brewey in Toledo, OH is an example of such a brewery. Owner and brewer Chris Harris works full time as a claims representative for the Social Security Administration. His brew days are Wednesday and Sunday,  while the Black Frog taproom is open on a Friday and a Saturday.

3. Add-ons to existing restaurant pubs. Many restaurant owners recognize the value of brewing their own beer on-site and adding it to their menu. Lack of space means that a nano set-up is ideal. Upside Brewing is an example of this model. To some extent this is a low risk approach as the brewery is being added to what is hopefully an already successful business. There is a built-in potential customer base and, as long as there is space to add the brewing equipment there is no additional outlay needed to acquire space.

It was the Austrian economist Leopold Kohr who championed the idea that small is beautiful- if you want to see evidence of the efficacy of this idea look no further than your nearest nano-brewery.

Three Things I’ve Learned Drinking Craft Beer

Growing up in Scotland I was (and still am) an avid football fan. That’s the football played with a round ball, or soccer as it is referred to in the United States. My passion for the sport has not waned over the last four and a half decades. And thanks to the wonders of the internet I am able to watch livestream coverage of games played by my favorite football team back in Scotland, Glasgow Celtic. And I can also follow all the news and gossip by connecting to the webpages of Scottish newspapers such as the Daily Record or The Scotsman. A common feature that has recently made an appearance in these, and other, newspapers is the “Three Things We Learned” column (sometimes it’s five things). Typically these columns will focus on the weekend’s fixtures or a particular match-up and will detail three (or five) things that a particular journalist feels were learned from the set of fixtures or from a particular fixture. As I was reading one of these columns the other week it got me thinking about craft beer and the things that I have learned as a craft beer drinker. So here goes – in no particular order – three things I’ve learned drinking craft beer?

Brewery Staff Are A Friendly Lot

Lansing Brewing Company in Lansing, MI – one of the craft breweries with a friendly and knowledge staff

I have visited dozens of craft breweries, not just in the United States but also  in a number of other countries including Austria, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. A common characteristic of almost every single craft brewery in which I have spent any time is the friendliness, passion, and knowledge of the staff. I like to visit craft breweries when they are quieter – late afternoon is one of my favorite times. I do so partly because I do not particularly like noisy bars. Also, those quieter periods are the perfect time to engage the bar staff in conversation. The bar staff in a craft brewery tend to be very knowledgeable and passionate about the product they are selling. They can also tell you about the brewery itself – the background of the owners, the size of the brewing system used, and the history of the building in which the brewery is housed. And it is a knowledge that they love to share. So I have spent many pleasant hours in craft breweries sitting on a bar stool chatting with bar tenders, asking questions and listening intently. And in the process I have learned so much about the craft beer industry. Not only do the bar staff know about the craft brewery at which they work but they also know about the other craft breweries in town; so my final question to them is often to ask their recommendation for the next craft brewery I should visit.

There’s A Craft Beer for Everyone

Something for everyone- Barley’s Brewing Company in Columbus, OH
Samplers are a good way to taste test a variety of craft beers

I have a number of friends who are not beer drinkers. Their preferred libation is wine. However, in going to craft breweries with them, to my joy, all of them have discovered at least one beer that they enjoy. In most cases these beers happen to be stouts or porters, particularly those that contain coffee or chocolate flavoring. In some respects I am not surprised that these friends have found a craft beer that they genuinely like. The Brewers Association recognizes the existence of over 150 different styles of beer. There is  Scottish-style Heavy-Ale, Finnish-style Sahti, Swedish-style Gotlandsdricke, English-style Brown Ale, German-style Kölsch – the list goes on and on. With so much choice there is surely something for everyone, and my, albeit limited, experience suggests that this may well be the case. So the next time you are in a craft brewery and a friend or family member tells you that they do not like beer, challenge them. Purchase a sampler of five or six different beers and have that person try them all. It might also be an idea, in selecting the composition of the sampler, to enlist the help of the friendly and knowledgeable bartender (see above) and have that person chat with the non-beer drinker to see what tastes and flavors appeal to his or her palate. So don’t take no for an answer when you offer to buy your non-beer drinking friend a beer. Their experience of beer up to that point has probably been Budweiser or Coors Light – so this is your opportunity to expand their horizons and introduce them to wonderful and diverse world of craft beer.

It’s Getting Harder to Drink Macro Beer

I rarely drink macro beer – but here I am doing it at a University of Toledo football game

I attended quite a few weddings last summer. All of them had an open bar. At the final wedding of the summer season I arrived at the reception and went up to the bar to see what was on offer – Budweiser and Bud Light. I opted for the Bud Light and went back to my table. After my second sip I realized that I could not drink any more. It simply was not a taste that I enjoyed. I had four or five hours ahead of me that evening and I am sure that I was close to breaking out into a cold sweat at the thought of drinking Budweiser or Bud Light all evening. Several years of drinking a wide range of flavorful craft beers had finally taken its toll. I simply could not tolerate the taste of macro-produced American-style pale lager – even if it was available for free all evening, as it was. A few minutes later I found myself back at the bar to see what they had for purchase. To my horror the bartender told me that they had no beer for purchase – only Budwesier or Bud Light for free. The bartender must have seen the expression of panic on my face because he quickly added that there was another bar in the building, which he assured me had a fine selection of craft beers for sale. I found it and spent the rest of the evening going back and forth between my table and the bar. The beers were around $6-$7 each so instead of drinking free all evening I forked out somewhere in the region of $35 on beer. But that is where I am when it comes to drinking beer. I’d rather pay for a good craft beer than drink a free Budweiser. I do not consider myself a beer snob. I do not look down on people who drink Coors Light. Live and let live –  if someone enjoys the taste of Miller Genuine Draft let them drink it. There are times, albeit very infrequently, when I do not drink craft beer. On those occasions my beer of choice, more often than not, is Pabst Blue Ribbon.

So here’s to beer drinkers everywhere – drink what you enjoy and enjoy what you drink.

Black Swamp, Black Frog, Black Cloister

There are five breweries in the city I call home, Toledo, OH. Three of these have one thing in common; they all have the word Black in their name; Great Black Swamp Brewing Company, Black Frog Brewery, and Black Cloister Brewing Company. Despite this Continue reading Black Swamp, Black Frog, Black Cloister

Slàinte, Salud, and Saħħa

Slàinte, Salud, and Saħħa – three words that are all used in the same way and to convey the same sentiment. Slàinte is Scots Gaelic, Salud is Spanish, and Saħħa is Maltese. All are used as toasts when glasses of alcholol are raised and all essentially translate as “good health”.

Continue reading Slàinte, Salud, and Saħħa

Brewed By The Birds

Polly James (left) and Nerys Hughes (right) as The Liver Birds

 

The two sculptured birds atop Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building

The British can take credit for the creation of some wonderful situation comedies. Growing up in Scotland during the 1970s and 1980s I was a regular viewer of a number of these. Some of my favorites included Only Fools and Horses, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and Porridge. Recently I was reminded of another – The Liver Birds. The Liver Birds ran for ten seasons on BBC from 1969 and 1979. Set in Liverpool the storyline focused on the lives of two women (Sandra played by Nerys Hughes and Beryl played by Polly James) who shared an apartment. The title for the series was inspired by two sculptured birds that are perched on top of Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building. The building, opened in 1911, was built to house the offices of the Royal Liver Assurance Group. The “bird” reference in the show’s title, however, is also a nod to the British slang word “bird”, which refers to a young woman. The American equivalent would be the word “chick”.

In Melbourne I enjoyed this Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company
Melbourne’s Hairy Little Sista Bar/Restaurant where I enjoyed a Sunset Ale

The show popped into my head, a few weeks ago, when I was in Melbourne, Australia. This was my fifth visit to Australia, but my first to Melbourne. I first visited Australia in 2006. While not much has changed since my first visit ten years ago one change that I have observed is the growing popularity of craft beer. Like Americans, increasing numbers of Australians, are demanding better quality and more flavorful beer than that which is offered by the large macro-brewers. I sampled quite a number of these Australian craft beers on my eight day trip there. One that I sampled was called Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company. It was recommended to by a bartender in Hairy Little Sista, a bar/restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD. I was with a colleague and we went into the Sista to get a beer. It was my round so I went up to the bar to see what was on offer. The bartender saw me perusing the selection of beers on tap and before I could make a decision she said “You should try the Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewery. The brewery is owned by two women, that’s why it’s called Two Birds, and they make some really good beer. It’s brewed here in Melbourne”. This particular bird, the bartender, had a sweet smile – I couldn’t refuse her recommendation. And I was not disappointed. Sunset Ale is a tasty amber ale that comes in at an ABV of 4.6%. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I had another the next day in another bar; this time from a bottle.

The two birds behind Two Birds Brewing are Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen. They both grew up in the city of Perth, in Western Australia and met there while teenagers. Throughout the course of their friendship they both developed a love and appreciation for  beer. Lewis eventually entered the brewing industry where she gained valuable experience working  for a number of Australian breweries, including as head brewer at Mountain Goat Brewery in Richmond, a Melbourne suburb. Allen, meanwhile, was putting her Marketing and Public Relations degree to work. Her passion was the food and beverage industry and she worked for a number of private sector firms following graduation. These included some time spent as Product Development Manager with the Australian retail giant, Woolworths, where she worked on the company’s private label brand of food products, ‘Select’.

In 2011 Lewis and Allen decided to enter the world of commercial brewing. At that point they were not ready to invest in a bricks-and-mortar brewery; instead they contracted with other  breweries to brew their beers. This allowed them to concentrate on other aspects of the business, including recipe development, establishing a distribution network, getting their brand known in the market, and also raising the financing to build an actual brewery. The latter they did in 2014 when they opened Two Birds Brewery in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood. Within the Australian context Lewis and Allen are pioneers – they are the country’s first female brewery owners. As part of the process of establishing their brewery the Two Birds made several pilgrimages to the United States, one in 2010 and one in 2013. They did so to immerse themselves in the American craft beer scene, to see what they could learn, and to draw inspiration – the fact that they made not one, but two visits to the United States is  a testimony to the cutting edge nature of the American craft beer industry.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have covered the topic of female Brewers in previous entries. In March 2016 I interviewed Shannon Fink, Head Brewer at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH. In July 2016 I wrote an entry about female-owned High Heel Brewing of Lakeland, FL. Historically, before beer became an industrialized product, the role of brewer was a predominantly female one.

After I returned from Australia I came across an article about two women, Aida Musulmankulova and Arzu Kurbanova. Musulmankulova and Kurbanova are the owners of Save the Ales, the first craft brewery to be established in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. The brewery is located in Bishkek, the country’s capital city. Not only are the owners (who also happen to be the Brewers) female but they made the decision to hire an all-female staff.

While female brewers are still heavily outnumbered numerically by their male counterparts there is no question that the number of female brewers is on the rise. And here in the United States we have, I believe, reached the point where female brewers are no longer regarded as a curiosity or an oddity. And while there is still a ways to go female breweres are slowly, but surely, becoming mainstream. And that, surely, is a good thing.