Payday Came and With It a Beer
The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.
– Henry Ellsworth, 1843
It is rumored that at sometime during the middle of the 19th century an official at the U. S. Patent Office resigned because, he claimed, there was nothing left to invent.
Around this time, historically speaking, an old Royal Navy brig dubbed the H.M.S. Beagle, which previously held only the distinction of being Her Majesty’s first Ship to sail under the London Bridge, carried with it a young naturalist around Cape Horn. After crossing three of the world’s four ocean’s, the five-year voyage would culminate with the discovery, or invention, of a dangerous idea. On the species problem, progress was made.
Payday came and with it a beer. Perhaps human improvement must not end.
On the homestretch of the Beagle’s return to England, perhaps in the southeasterly portion of the South Atlantic near the Cape of Good Hope, the soon-to-be historically renowned vessel likely passed in the night other British ships bound for colonial India carrying with them in their hulls rations and supplies that no longer included hogsheads of stale, flat, musty and sour beer. For decades, the sea’s chop and the temperature fluctuations of long voayges had been hell on beer and man.
But man and its brewing evolved. Over the years luck, hops, and high alcohol content would prevail and the species would discover, or invent, a way.
It is rumored that at sometime during the early part of the 19th century a brewer at the Bow Brewery in East London invented India Pale Ale, a highly hopped, high alcohol variety of ale that would withstand long voyages to warm climates. Much evidence, however, suggests that like the resignation of the U.S. Patent Office official, Hodgson’s “invention” was only rumor. Nonetheless, on the “Great Beer Problem,” progress was made.
The emergence of ideas, inventions, and discoveries, whether in science or brewing (there’s little difference between the two, anyway) is often more complex than the historical record. The quality of an invention is of less import than the time and place. Perhaps the lighter pale ales just tasted better than the more common dark porters (which apparently survived the seas voyage quite well) on the the Indian subcontinent. Perhaps Darwin’s dangerous idea, inspired by many seemingly random events on the voyage of the Beagle, just tasted better there and then, too.
History makes theories and ales just as much as ales and theories make history.