“Facts for Ale Drinkers”

Consider this ad which appeared in the Ogdensburg Journal, Ogdensburg, NY on February 20, 1894.

The same ad ran from January through September in that year. C.H. Evans, the Hudson, NY brewer I discussed earlier, had placed a similar ad in New York-area newspapers some years earlier. Evans probably helped J.P. Ames place the ads although numerous other brewers were mentioned. If Evans did pay the cost or part, it was commendable as competitive products were not excluded.

In a two-part article in August this year I discussed the 1930s reminiscences of Walter Leonard, an ex-showman.

After the Civil War his father owned a bar and hotel in Morley, near Canton in St. Lawrence County, the northern end of central New York where the St. Lawrence River divides the U.S. from Canada.

Leonard recalled how ales were popular in the region and his father’s bar carried those of Greenway in the not-too-distant city of Syracuse, NY.

Ogdensburg is the main city in St. Lawrence County. Potsdam is nearby and will prompt readers to recall WW II history, when a famous conference took place there at which the U.S. and Canada set their wartime strategy.

The ale and porter heritage of New England and New York State has often been commented on. In recent writings I have reviewed many ads for these products and gleaned the names of many brewers (all now disappeared except for one or two).

I am still struck by how long the tradition lasted. The lager deluge which saturated the Midwest and New York City and boroughs came later to central and northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and the “north country” in general.

Ale and porter outsold lager in parts of the region until the dawn of Prohibition. John Arnold, who had brewed in Ogdensburg, chronicled a good part of this history in his (1901) 100 Years Of Brewing.

In 1894 J.P. Ames brought Evans’s ales from its downriver location on the Hudson, not a hard trip by the later 1800s. But look what else he sold: Bass’s ales, which meant the pale ale and the stronger Bass’ Burton ale, Allsopp’s pale ale, a renowned international pale ale and legend of the India trade, but also Arnold’s beers from Ogdensburg and even Brosomer’s beers from the hinterland’s Oswego, NY.

German-born Brosomer was a relative latecomer, establishing ale brewing in Oswego in 1893 (see 100 Years of Brewing). Ames was probably giving him a boost.

And Guinness was carried by Ames, too, it was everywhere in the 1800s – still is.

That’s a pretty good sampling of British top-fermentation specialities for a small city like Ogdensburg. One can imagine that barroom comments assessed the local ales in relation to the imported. New York brewers often trumpeted that their beers were as good or better than Bass and other imports, but who knows.

In 1878, 16 years before the above ad, J.P. Ames was selling lager too, Bartholomay’s from Rochester, NY, see here.  The Cape Vincent ales mentioned must have been brewed in the locality of that name in the Thousand Islands of the region.

John Ames was an English immigrant who built an enviable wine and liquors importing and wholesale business in Ogdensburg. It was operated from a four storey brick building on Isabella Street. The city’s numbering system has changed and I couldn’t find evidence the building still stands although I’d think it must.

You can read biographical detail on John Ames in this trade directory.

Ogdensburg, originally spelled with a terminal h, was founded by families hailing from Morristown, NJ, where Beeretseq has family as it happens. Some francophone families endured after the French era, but once the Jersey crowd came in the town assumed an old stock American aspect, which was manifest in its foodways no less than other areas of culture. The intervening British period perhaps contributed to the liking for ale and porter too, the British held forts up there until the Jay Treaty in 1794 cleared the path for settlement.

It took a long time until Germanic lager largely ousted the ancestral taste for ale and porter in St. Lawrence County, although in fact lager-brewing started quite early – see once again Arnold’s book. Also, a brewer called Crichton brewed “lager bier” in Ogdensburg in the 1850s, no doubt seeking to offer an option to Arnold’s hegemony. See details on page 6 of this historical article on the city from 1965.

I’d like to think Ames’ English origins inclined him to keep ale and stout going in the town including emblematic English pale ale and Irish stout. But he dealt in lager too as the 1878 ad linked above shows. In the liquor business then as now, playing favourites is a mug’s game.

Note re images: The first image is my photo of the ad from the NYS digitized newspaper linked above. The second was sourced from the historical page of an Ogdensburg newspaper’s website, here. The third was sourced from this map resource site, here. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.