British Beer and Arctic Exploits

The British have a proud tradition of brewing beer and exploring the North and South Poles. These endeavours are linked through history in more ways than you might imagine, as shown by the recent auction of a beer brewed especially for an Arctic expedition.

Allsopp’s Artic Ale was brewed in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire for an expedition led by Sir George Strong Nares in 1875. This was not the first time this ale would accompany explorers travelling to the arctic.

Ale was instrumental to long sea voyages as it contains vitamin C and stores well. The Arctic Ale was brewed by Samuel Allsopp & Sons, founded in the early Eighteenth century by Benjamin Wilson. His son Benjamin sold the floundering business to his nephew, Samuel Allsopp in 1807.

This period was marked by an economic downturn in Britain caused by a blockade ordered by Napoléon Bonaparte. His Berlin Decree of 1806 forbade any continental trade with Britain, reducing British exports by over 50%. The blockade ended in 1814 when, after losing the Battle of Leipzeig, he was exiled to the tiny island of Elba, some 12 miles of the coast of Tuscany.

Arctic Ale was first brewed to accompany an expedition to the Arctic led by Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin. Franklin’s expedition left in 1845 and aimed to chart the famous North-west Passage, linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Unfortunately, this ended in failure and the ships and participants were lost. Franklin became a national hero and Queen Victoria ordered that the expedition party must be found.

Arctic Ale was brewed again to supply ships led by Sir Edward Belcher in 1851, seeking to discover what had befallen the Franklin expedition. A young George Nares served as Second Mate on one of the ships. Belcher failed to find anything and returned to England after three hard years of searching.

Arctic Ale was again brewed to accompany Leopold McClintock in 1857 in another failed attempt to discover the Franklin expedition. He returned with only a note detailing the fate of the expedition, discovered on an island close to where Franklin’s ships became icebound and foundered.

In 1875 Arctic Ale would accompany Nares to The North Pole.

Nares had already made a name for himself as something of a maverick. In November 1869 he took his survey ship, the Newport, into the Gulf of Suez via the newly opened Suez Canal. The French Imperial yacht L’Aigle was officially the first vessel to pass through the canal, however Nares’ ship was actually the first to do so. On the night before it was due to open he navigated Newport through the long queue of moored ships in total darkness and without lights. In the morning, the crew of L’Aigle were mortified to find that the Royal Navy had a ship in front of them and there was nothing they could do about it. Nares received an official reprimand from the Admiralty for causing a diplomatic incident. He was also promoted to Captain for his superb seamanship and for increasing Britain’s seafaring prestige.

Nares did not manage to reach the North Pole. However he became the first explorer to take his ships through the channel between Ellesmere Island and Greenland to the Lincoln sea. This passage is now called the Nares Strait in his honour. His name also graces a small island in Northern Greenland called Nares Land, and Nares County in Australia’s Queensland state.

Some 140 years later, a bottle of beer from his final Arctic expedition was discovered by Trevanion and Dean auctioneer Aaron Dean in a box in the garage of a house in Gobowen, Shropshire. Nobody knows why it was there. On the 13th of June 2015 it was auctioned for £3,300! Quite a lot for beer perhaps but certainly one steeped in history.

However, this bottle was not the first sold at auction. As a final twist in this tale, in 2007 a bottle from Belcher’s 1851 expedition was listed on eBay. Unfortunately this bottle of Allsopp’s was listed as “Allsop’s Arctic Ale”, and fetched $304. The buyer then relisted it with the correct spelling and 76,464 views and 157 bids later it sold for $503,300 (£325,000).

As spelling mistakes go, thats pretty costly!

Image is “George Nares“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Man’s Best Friend To Keep Vineyards Safe

No, we aren’t talking about guard dogs.

A few years ago whilst waiting in an airport for a flight to Koh Samui, Thailand, we encountered a little cocker spaniel. She ran up to us and started pointing at our hand luggage. Having nothing to hide and feeling slightly bemused we dutifully unpacked our bags. It turned out that the clever dog had smelled the 5,000 Thai Bhat in small bills we were carrying.

Sniffer dogs are wondrous animals; highly trained and able to detect people, explosives, narcotics and even, as we found out, the ink on printed money.

If you thought they couldn’t get any more useful, it seems they will shortly be able to protect vineyards from pests and disease.

Sonja Needs, a researcher at Melbourne University, is training sniffer dogs to detect phylloxera, the scourge of vineyards. This tiny relative of the aphid feeds on the roots of grapevines, sucking the sap from them. The resulting damage leaves the vine susceptible to disease. If you want to know more about phylloxera, read our recent post.

Phylloxera is currently present in Australia in Victoria and New South Wales. The rest of the country has remained unaffected. Dogs capable of sniffing out this pest could be vital in keeping phylloxera from spreading.

Australia puts a lot of resources into wine production. Grafted vines are key to this. North American vines are more resistant to phylloxera. Grape growers can graft their vines onto the rootstock from North American vines to allow them to grow the variety they want whilst reducing the chances of phylloxera taking hold. According to the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia, in 2012 76,000 hectares of vineyards were planted in that state, which is more than double the total amount planted by the whole of New Zealand for the same year. Of those vines planted around a fifth were planted purely for their phylloxera resistant rootstocks – a huge investment in fighting this disease.

Vines under attack from phylloxera often show no noticeable evidence of this above ground. Dogs capable of sniffing out this pest could play a vital role in preventing it spreading. Areas that are cleared of phylloxera can be frequently checked, as can harvesting equipment to ensure the disease is not being accidentally spread. Most of Australia is phylloxera free, and these dogs could keep it that way.

Training a dog for detection is basically a process of getting it to recognise a smell, and then playing increasingly difficult hide and seek games with a reward each time.

With phylloxera, Ms Needs thinks the key will be training the dogs to sniff it out at increasingly deeper depths in the soil, between three and four feet down. Phylloxera is dormant in winter so the ideal scenario would be to detect it when it is not active.

Ms Needs is also helping to give unwanted dogs something to do. Apparently dogs that tend to be hyperactive or difficult to control make excellent sniffer dogs – all they need is a job to do.

So, just in case you needed another reason to appreciate Man’s best friend, thanks to them for working to keep vineyards pest free!

Full story in ABC.

Image is “a nose for fun” by Salem Eames [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Get Some Sunblock On Your Grapes

When it comes to dealing with extreme climate Australia must surely be one of the most experienced and resourceful countries in the world.

2014 was Australia’s third hottest on record, and the ten hottest years have all occurred in the last 13 years according to The Conversation.

Extreme heat is bad news for grapes, if the temperature is too high they suffer a similar fate to people, heat stress. Grapes get dehydrated and sunburnt. Countering dehydration is a simple matter of adding more water, assuming you have it. However, how do you stop a grape getting sunburn? Simple, sunblock of course!

If you find this surprising you might also be surprised to know that similar products are being tested on fruit and vegetables in countries around the world to prevent heat stress.

On the surface this might seem like a waste of time and resources but heat stress for fruit and vegetables is a major problem. Plants sweat in a similar way to people, water is secreted through pores in the plant as part of photosynthesis, in a process called transpiration. As this water evaporates it helps to cool the plant.

However, just as with people, as the ambient temperature rises, so does the amount of water a person, or a plant, needs.

So, before you scoff at sunblock for Syrah, consider that it might help reduce the amount of water required by fruit and vegetable growers, which can only be a good thing.

Full story at The BBC.

Image is “Hunter panorama-1b-web-l” by Mfunnell at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:JohnnyMrNinja using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A Bottle Of Wine For 50p – Only In Australia!

Very occasionally in Australia water is more expensive than wine.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s true and happening again right now for a whole host of reasons.

Australia is one of the world’s big wine exporters, shipping 750 million litres a year overseas. Right now there is flagging demand internationally so much of the wine that was originally intended for export is now available to the domestic market.

Partly this is due to a strong Australian currency, particularly against the US dollar, depressing Australia’s export market. Around 17% of wine imported to the US is from Australia.

Furthermore, the strong currency makes it more likely that other countries will increase exports to Australia, further driving down local prices.

Another interesting aspect of this is that duty on wine in Australia is set according to price. So, the lower the price you charge, the less duty you pay.

Finally, there is a lack of retail choice. Currently two supermarkets, Woolworths and Coles, have 70% of the wine retail market, which means that there is little opportunity for producers to negotiate higher prices for their products.

All in all, this perfect storm means you can buy a bottle of wine in Australia for as little as one Australian dollar, or around 50p.

The full story from The BBC.