Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Historyless History

The Cider in the United States Wikipedia page includes sections on the history and regionalism of American cider, all supported by 55 footnotes. Footnotes are fantastically helpful. They give almost anything an air of being well-researched.

But if you do more than glance at the page’s footnotes something interesting emerges. As you can see below (click image to enlarge), almost every footnote references a modern cidermaker’s website, press release, or newspaper article.

Cider in US footnotes

Retrieved 17 May 2016

There isn’t a lot of real history supporting this history. You might ask why this matters?

First, quoting cidermakers about the history of cider is like quoting the Ford Motor Company about the history of American automobiles, or Exxon about responsible energy use, or Dick Cheney about the art of diplomacy. It’s going to be incomplete and biased from the start.

And secondly, for all the claims about how important history is to their work, the modern cidermaking community doesn’t really understand or know that history. They do, however, know how to share a “good story” when they hear one.

This might seem like a snobbish rant. Maybe it is, but it’s also an interesting (to me, at least) case study in how some people interact with and use history.

For now it seems the popular understanding of American cider history is being written through marketing copy and by “whisper-down-the-lane” tales. It’s a shame really, because there are lots of real “good stories” about cider history out there. For instance, have you heard the one about cider as a gateway drink…

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Filling Lighting-Stoppered Bottles

Last week I suggested that lightning-stopper bottle users have well-developed thumbs. It’s not really like that. Your thumbs aren’t strong so much as sore if you bottle like I do.

I use a pretty basic, low-tech process to fill bottles: first I fill with a spring-loaded bottling wand which allows me to efficiently fill one bottle at a time

Like this.

and then I manually set each stopper (though I use both hands).

It’s great for the pico-cydery scale I’m at, but I always wonder how the industrial producers do it.

Fortunately, a European soft-drink company produced this

I’ll bet their thumbs are normal-sized, but their index fingers are buff from all the button pushing.

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141 Years of a Quick-Closing Bottle

You may have noticed I prefer to use one kind of bottle.

IMG_0320

These.

They’re known by several names – swing-top, flip-top, bail, and brace. The company that makes them calls them E-Z Cap. They’re popularly known as Grolsch bottles because the Grolsch brewery (located in Holland) continued to use them long after most everyone else started using crown caps.

Despite the association, Grolsch did not invent these bottles. American Charles De Quillfeldt did. He patented them in 1875.

At the time he called it simply an “improved bottle-stopper.” Not long after the patent was granted this stopper-type gained the fantastic name “lightning stopper” because it could be quickly sealed. Quillfeldt doesn’t include this name in his 1875 application, but he does in his 1898 patent application (for improvements to his original design).

The earliest use of “lightning stopper” found so far is this advert in The Medical Register for New England from 1876.

Lightning Stopper

From a simpler time, when medical journals advertised beer as a healthful drink.

It’s unclear if Quillfeldt coined the term, but it was quickly and commonly adopted. Since then all swing-top/flip-top/bail/brace/Grolsch bottles have been formally classified as “lightning” stoppers or closures.

Almost 150 years later lightning-stoppered bottles remain as they were in 1875, “very convenient, quick, and secure.” Provided you have the thumb strength to close them.

PW Thumbing It

You can always tell the lightning-stopper user.

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For more on bottle closure types check out the Soda and Beer Bottles of North American page and the Society for Historical Archaeology’s page.

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