A Brief History of ‘The Old Colonel’





mortal remains
In December 1907 a 475 foot, seven-masted steel-hulled schooner, The Thomas W Lawson, went aground off Annett, an uninhabited island a few miles from the Cornish coast, with the loss of seventeen lives. On board were Fifty-eight thousand barrels of paraffin. Yes, honestly. Fifty-eight thousand! If you don't believe me, look it up.
 "What," you may justifiably ask, "has any of this to do with Hopeless, Maine? "
In all honesty, the simple answer is, not a lot. However, by coincidence, some years later, an almost identical tragedy occurred when a similarly large vessel, the 'Stanley Downton', came to grief on the rocks around Hopeless, carrying a far more agreeable cargo. On that day over fifty-thousand barrels of malted barley were delivered to the grateful inhabitants of the island, and, luckily, one visionary knew exactly what to do with every last drop.

Those who have followed these tales from their earliest days may recall that Colonel 'Mad Jack' Ruscombe-Green, and his faithful batman, Private Bill Ebley, gallant survivors of the Great War, had set off to cross the Atlantic in an open boat. They were hoping to emulate a feat, completed some years earlier (but from west to east) by two American-Norwegians, Frank Samuelsen and George Hasbo (related in the tale 'Jolly Boating Weather'). Fate, it would appear, had other ideas for Ruscombe-Green and Ebley; rather than making a triumphant arrival in New York harbour, as planned, the pair fetched up on the unforgiving shores of the island of Hopeless, Maine.
It was a full year or so later that Ruscombe-Green, 
almost uniquely, escaped the island, aided by the Passaquamoddy trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. Bill Ebley by this time had developed a fondness for a certain Constanza Gannicox and elected to stay on Hopeless, where he not only raised a family, but - more importantly, some might argue - founded the much revered Ebley Brewery. 

Prior to Bill's contribution to the quality and quantity of alcohol available, the art of brewing on the island had been, to say the least, somewhat hit and miss. Both The Squid and Teapot and The Crow had enjoyed mixed success with their home-brewed ales, having depended greatly upon whatever raw materials the tide brought in. With the arrival of Bill, who hailed from several generations of British brewers, closely followed by rather a lot of malted barley, things changed considerably. By my calculations, if the barrels had been mere little firkins (which is unlikely) the haul would have been about five hundred thousand gallons. If, on the other hand, they had been full sized barrels there would be somewhere in the region of two million gallons of malted barley at Bill's disposal. As I said, rather a lot. The future of brewing on the island looked decidedly good. 

It would be wrong to trace the fortunes of the Ebley Brewery without making some reference to the Gannicox Distillery. It was Constanza's brother, Ebeneezer, who originally founded the distillery. At first it relied upon the brewery for most of its barrels but as the years passed the roles reversed. An appreciative clientele were not slow to point out that beer which had matured in casks previously used for spirits acquired greater depth and flavour. So enamoured was Bill with the enhanced quality of the brew that he called it 'Old Colonel', in honour of his erstwhile commandant. 

 "That takes some believing," said Seth Washwell, when he heard the story. "Fifty thousand barrels? How did they get that lot ashore?"
 "Maybe they didn't need to," said Philomena Bucket, who had never questioned the veracity of the account. "After all, it was a big ship that ran aground. It didn't necessarily sink."
 Seth thought about this, then said, triumphantly, "Ah, but what about the crew? If the ship didn't sink they probably survived and would have stopped any looting."
 "Better not to ask," said Philomena, mysteriously. "It all happened a long time ago."
 Seth was not satisfied. 
 "And you're telling me that Old Colonel is still being produced from the malted barley that turned up all those years ago?"
 " Why ever not? " said Philomena, sharply. She was tiring of the conversation, and had work to do. 
 "If you don't believe me, ask Mrs Middlestreet. After all, Ariadne is the owner of the Ebley Brewery."
 She saw genuine surprise on Seth's face.
 "Didn't you know? Her grandmother was Mildred Ebley, Bill's only child. Mildred married Isaac Lypiatt, whose family had run The Squid for years. Ariadne is, or was, the last of the Lypiatts."
 "So that makes Constanza Gannicox her great grandmother... and Mrs Middlestreet has connections with the brewery and distillery. Norbert must be her cousin. Why didn't I know that?" said Seth, shaking his head.
 "Because you're too busy mooning around that French girlfriend of yours," grinned Philomena.
 Seth reddened.
 "That still doesn't explain," he said sulkily, "how they got fifty thousand barrels ashore, and where they put them."

Drury had been lying quietly in the corner, listening intently to their conversation. He wagged his bony tail. He had been there when it had happened, and had seen it all. Unfortunately for Seth, he wasn't telling. 

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