By Anchor historian Dave Burkhart
“And for to make the merry cheere,
If smirking Wine be wanting here,
There’s that which drowns all care, stout Beere;
Which freely drink to your Lord’s health,
Then to the plough, (the Common-wealth)
Next to your Flailes, your Fanes, your Fatts;
Then to the Maids with Wheaten Hats:
To the rough Sickle and crookt Sythe,
Drink, frollick, boyes til all be blythe.”
–From The Hock-cart, or Harvest Home, a poem by Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
Long before stout was a beer it was an adjective, meaning brave or proud. Over the years, its meaning evolved to include strong, as in a stout ship, built to endure the roughest seas, or a stout beer, be it a pale ale or a dark porter. By the mid-nineteenth century, the stoutest porters were becoming stouts and the stoutest stouts export stouts, which, like the stout ships in which they were transported, were built to endure a long, arduous voyage.
The three enemies of beer on a ship—besides a thirsty crew—are heat, motion, and time. Everyone knows the story of India Pale Ale, brewed a little stronger and more bitter than ordinary pale ale, to which British brewers would add dry hops in the barrel for the long voyage to colonial India. The hops helped preserve the ale and gave it a pronounced aroma, the hallmark of a modern IPA.
Rather than dry-hopping their stouts for export, English and Irish brewers focused instead on creating high-alcohol versions of their stouts for long voyages to India, the West Indies, Australia, Canada, the United States, and, following the discovery of gold in 1848, the Port of San Francisco. Intensely malty, these high-gravity stouts could afford to be a bit more heavily hopped in the boil—further enhancing the beer’s longevity—without compromising their malt-forward flavor profile. Although the lines between porter, stout porter, brown stout, stout, double brown stout, etc., were blurred, it was clear to London’s “Professor of Brewing” William Tizard in the 1840s that the stronger stouts were “mostly sent to the provinces, or consigned to exportation,” and that “the ultimate attenuation of the export stout should vary according to the climate it will have to encounter.”
If kegged, special vent nails or sometimes vent pegs were used in the barrels to help prevent them from bursting in the ship’s hold. If bottled, brewers had another solution. “Brown stout makes the best bottled porter,” surmised Frederick Accum in his 1820 Treatise on the Art of Brewing. “When the beer is intended to be exported to a hot climate, the bottles, when filled, should stand open twenty-four hours to flatten the beer, and the corks should be secured with a copper wire firmly drawn over them and fastened round the neck of the bottle.” The Town and Country Brewery Book (circa 1830) recommended waiting forty-eight hours before corking, after which one should pack the bottles “in casks round and round: and after every second layer is in, get into the casks with your shoes on, and jump your whole weight upon them, for they must be packed as tight in the old straw packing as bricks in a wall; and when your casks are full, let the cooper head them up strong.”
There is evidence of imported porter in San Francisco as early as 1846, when a municipal duty of $3 per 18 gallons was imposed. Gold was discovered in California on January 24, 1848, although the gold rush was more gold than rush until President Polk confirmed the find and fueled the excitement on December 5, 1848, in the nineteenth-century equivalent of a State-of-the-Union address.
The earliest evidence of imported stout per se in San Francisco is dated October 7, 1848. It is an advertisement in The Californian for Barclay & Perkins’ London Stout, which would have been lapped up by thirsty miners as a safe source of hydration and nutrition if not revelry. Coincidentally, Barclay Perkins stouts were made in London at the old Anchor Brewery (no relation).
In 1850, there were just two breweries listed in San Francisco’s city directory. But by that time, clipper ships were bringing stout around Cape Horn with a regularity that confirms its immense popularity in the City by the Bay.
Daniel Wheeler’s invention of black “patent” malt in 1817 had made higher-alcohol black beers a relative cinch to make. In the ensuing years, the grain bill for London stouts evolved toward a blend of pale, brown, and black malts, while the Dublin brewers preferred the drier flavors that resulted from using just pale and black malts in the mash. “Some portion of the Irish brewers, and those who rank among the most celebrated,” Tizard asserted, “form their grist of pale and best black malt only.”
In this regard, Anchor brewmaster Mark Carpenter’s recipe for our export stout (7.4% ABV) is more Dublin-style than London-style, which helps distinguish this black-as-night brew from our Anchor Porter (5.6% ABV). Our grain bill for Flying Cloud San Francisco Stout includes Maris Otter pale, two black malts, and flaked barley. Goldings hops provides the perfect complement to the dry, dark-chocolaty flavors from the malt. And now this export stout, inspired by the stouts shipped around Cape Horn to San Francisco in the 1850s, ships—with delightful irony—to London, allowing our Anchor Brewery to return the 164-year-old favor!
Of all the clippers that ever sailed around the Horn to San Francisco, whether from Europe or the East Coast, none compares to the Flying Cloud. The journey severely tests even the stoutest ship, captain, navigator, and crew, as Herman Melville so perfectly described in 1850, in White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War:
“And now, through drizzling fogs and vapours, and under damp, double-reefed top-sails, our wet-decked frigate drew nearer and nearer to the squally Cape.
“Who has not heard of it? Cape Horn, Cape Horn—a horn indeed, that has tossed many a good ship. Was the descent of Orpheus, Ulysses, or Dante into Hell, one whit more hardy and sublime than the first navigator’s weathering of that terrible Cape?
“Turned on her heel by a fierce West Wind, many an outward-bound ship has been driven across the Southern Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope—that way to seek a passage to the Pacific. And that stormy Cape, I doubt not, has sent many a fine craft to the bottom, and told no tales. At those ends of the earth are no chronicles. What signify the broken spars and shrouds that, day after day, are driven before the prows of more fortunate vessels? O the tall masts, imbedded in icebergs, that are found floating by? They but hint the old story—of ships that sailed from their ports, and never more were heard of….
“Now, while the heedless craft is bounding over the billows, a black cloud rises out of the sea; the sun drops down from the sky; a horrible mist far and wide spreads over the water.
“‘Hands by the halyards! Let go! Clew up!’
“For ere the ropes’ ends can be cast off from the pins, the tornado is blowing down to the bottom of their throats. The masts are willows, the sails ribbons, the cordage wool; the whole ship is brewed into the yeast of the gale.”
In 1843, Melville “shipped as a common sailor on board of a United States frigate, then lying in a harbour of the Pacific Ocean.” White-Jacket is the story of his cruise, as he calls it, homeward bound around the Horn.
At Anchor, we’ve long known the story of the Flying Cloud’s six trips around the Horn to San Francisco. Our 2009 Anchor calendar featured a reproduction of a lithograph (circa 1855) of this historic ship and its steam-driven competition side-by-side, as if racing each other toward the Golden Gate.
On June 2, 1851, the Flying Cloud left New York on its first voyage to San Francisco. By early July it could have had anywhere from two to three months left on a journey of more than 15,000 nautical miles. As Captain Josiah Perkins Creesy Jr. prepared the extreme clipper for its impending passage around the Horn, a passenger, Willie Hall, read aloud from Melville’s new book, White-Jacket. Neither Hall nor Creesy had any idea how the ship and its passengers would fare on the dangerous seas ahead.
By Creesy’s (March 23, 1814–June 5, 1871) side was his wife of ten years, Eleanor Horton Prentiss Creesy (September 21, 1814–August 25, 1900), daughter of Captain Joshua Prentiss III, who died when she was three, and stepdaughter/niece of Lt. John Elbridge Prentiss of the US Navy, who married her mother when Eleanor was just eight. Ellen and Perk, as they were known, both grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where they fell in love with the sea and each other.
On July 9, Captain Creesy noted a change of weather in the ship’s log: “Thunder lightning & much rain.” By the middle of the following day, there were “very heavy squalls with much & very severe Thunder & Lightning.” He double-reefed the topsails in preparation for the “hard gale” that was soon blowing.
July 11 was worse: “Heavy gales…. At 1 PM discovered Main Masthead sprung… Very turbulent sea running ship laboring hard and shipping large quantities of water over lee rail”
It was not Creesy’s only challenge that day. He was a “driver,” who had been driving both ship and crew hard from day one. The crew was growing restless and resentful of their captain. Several had begun drilling a series of holes in the ship, in a mutinous effort to allow water to enter the hold and ruin the Flying Cloud’s $50,000 cargo.
On July 12, the captain described the sabotage in the log, while the “hard gales and harder squalls” rocked the ship. “Carpenter discovered two auger holes had been bored in the Deck close to the after sill of the fore Castle & to the side, under the after berth, which has been done by some one of the sailors, on Enquiry found the man under whose berth the hole was had been seen coming out of the fore Castle with an auger in his hand put him in Irons—also a man who was seen to work at the holes digging with a marline spike which led to its discovery—these holes are about 3½ or 4 inches apart and the intervening space Dug away to all appearances with a marline spike making one Large hole—say 4 inches long by 1 or 1½ wide; During the time of washing away the Hawse stopper and getting the ship on Larboard tack the water over this hole was two to three feet Deep consequently must have admitted a large quantity of water into the between Decks on & among Cargo”
Miraculously, the cargo survived and by morning the captain reported “fresh breezes fine weather.” He “let the men out of irons in consequence of wanting their services with the understanding that they would be taken care of on arriving at San Francisco.” The huge clipper, built in Boston by Donald McKay (1810–1880), launched on April 15, 1851, and at one time the largest merchant vessel afloat, sailed on toward Cape Horn and San Francisco. The hardest part of their trip, mercifully, was already over.
The gold rush had hastened the development of the clipper ship, already so essential to the commercial success of the tea trade. In the early 1850s, merchants were more than willing to sacrifice cargo space for speed, offering top dollar (the untested Flying Cloud sold for $90,000) for the latest design and technology, all in an effort to beat the competition to the new Eldorado.
“Historian of the merchant sail” David MacGregor lists four characteristics that define a clipper: A fine-lined hull (an “extreme” clipper, according to MacGregor, has an “excessively” fine-lined hull), an emphasis on a streamlined appearance to the hull, a large sail, and a daring, skillful master. Part of Captain Creesy’s skill was in his engagement of Ellen as navigator. Her own daring and skill, coupled with her thorough understanding of the latest sailing directions and wind and current charts of Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806–1873), made her the perfect choice and, as it turned out, a true trailblazer.
Thanks to “Team Creesy” and their stout ship, the Flying Cloud made the passage from New York to San Francisco in record time, 89 days, 21 hours anchor to anchor. On September 1, 1851, the Daily Alta California heralded the Flying Cloud’s arrival in San Francisco. “This skimmer of the seas, the largest American merchantman ever launched, commanded by Capt. Creecy [sic], arrived in our port yesterday forenoon, after a passage of eighty-nine days [89 days, 21 hours] from New York—the shortest time ever made…. The discovery of our golden sands has done more in four years toward improvement in the style of ship building, than would have occurred from other general causes in half a century. The antiquated hulks which, like huge washing-tubs, have been floating about the seas, sailing about as fast sideways as in any other direction, have been forced, by the rapid spirit of the trade with California, to give place to entirely new models of ships, graceful in their motions as swans on a summer lake, and fleet as the cloud which is blown before the gale.”
On April 20, 1854, the Creesys eclipsed their own phenomenal record, sailing the Flying Cloud from New York to San Francisco in 89 days, 8 hours anchor to anchor. Their record stood until 1989.
Today, more than 160 years after the Flying Cloud—dubbed “the fastest sailer afloat” by the Sacramento Daily Union—first sailed through the Golden Gate, we raise a glass of Flying Cloud San Francisco Stout to this noble vessel, its daring, skillful captain and navigator, and a brewing tradition enjoyed by San Franciscans since 1848!