In August of 2007 a bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale was auctioned off, and although I didn’t participate in the bidding, I became fascinated by the story surrounding this bottle of beer brewed in 1852 and its highly unique history. When the bidding was over, this bottle reportedly sold for over $500,000, and while the sale was never completed, the mystery of its origins became all that more intriguing to me.
So, for the next two and a half years I dug through all available resources – the deepest of all journals and records - to discover everything there was to know about this obscure Ale and the unique journey it had taken. As it turns out, the story of Allsopp’s and its trademark “red hand” has deep historical significance as it was commissioned by Queen Victoria back in 1852 to accompany a group of Arctic Explorers led by Sir Edward Belcher.
The custom of equipping British vessels with fermented liquor is an old one. In fact, ale was a standard article of sea ration dating back to the 1300’s. By the late eighteenth century, beer had begun to be considered a food -- a staple beverage and essential part of the sea diet; a luxury -- helping to ameliorate the hardships and irregularities of sea life, and a medicine -- conducive to health at sea. In particular, beer and its precursors, wort and malt, were administered with the aim of preventing and curing the deadly disease known as scurvy.
Sir Edward Belcher led five ships and took several hundred bottles of Allsopp's Arctic Ale on the journey to discover the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. It was Captain Belcher himself who reported that Allsopp's Arctic Ale, containing almost 12% alcohol and packed with hops, proved to be "a valuable anti-scorbutic," helping to fight off scurvy -- the bane of all sea voyages in those days. He added that the beer was "a great blessing to us, particularly for our sick" and that “it refused to freeze until the temperature dropped well below zero”.
But Belcher’s mission failed and he was forced to abandon 4 out of the 5 ships in his fleet. One of these ships, The H.M.S Resolute – which gained notoriety recently in the movie "National Treasure – became stuck in the frozen sea and left for ruin, only to be found later adrift in the Baffin Bay. It was an American whaling vessel, the “George Henry,” that discovered this abandoned ‘ghost ship’ in 1855 and towed back to the United States.
A Motorcycle Adventure Like No Other
In July of 2010, Chris Bowen, Dick Gethin, and John Chay will leave Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to embark upon on a 2000-mile epic motorcycle journey to the Canadian Arctic in order to recreate this historic and mysterious beer. The story will begin in England where Allsopp’s was first brewed and end on the shores of the Northwest Passage where Allsopp’s Arctic Ale will be brewed once again.
Come ride with us as we discover the people, places and culture of the great northern areas of Canada and tell the story of this important Victorian adventure of courage, pride and incredible human spirit.
This modern day adventure will be one of recreation and discovery and our entire journey will be filmed and made into a 60-minute documentary. We will be riding adventure-style motorcycles and followed by our filmmakers and a support vehicle. Along the way, we will be visiting French Canadian breweries, Inuit & Cree Indian villages, as well as other historical locations in order to interview the many people along the way and document cultural events.
Upon reaching the shoreline of the Hudson/James Bay, we will recreate the original Allsopp’s recipe by constructing a portable brewery able to produce beer outdoors in the extreme elements. Utilizing water from the famous Rupert River, we will brew about 100 gallons of our beer and bring it back for bottling as well for promotion of our film.
Follow the Red Hand North!