The roots of the Yard of Ale

A vibrant agricultural society was developed in the Genesee Valley soon after the American Revolution, thanks to the dedication and influence of men like William and James Wadsworth. The valley became known for its production of wheat, hemp, cattle, sheep, pot ash, pearl ash, and lumber. Transporting these products from the valley became a problem that was resolved when citizens petitioned the State Legislature in 1836 to build a canal between the Erie Canal at Rochester and the Allegheny River at Olean.

The Genesee Valley Canal was completed and opened as far as Mount Morris by September, 1840. It passed through the present parking lot of this restaurant and was crossed by the stagecoach route between Bath and Batavia. At the intersection of these major commercial routes, D. Thompson established an inn, which opened for business in 1840.

Early in the twentieth century, J.D. McGuire purchased this property and named it “The Hotel Genesee”. It passed through other owners, from Olsen to Twitchell, and was known for years as “The Colonial Inn”. In the 1970’s and early 80’s it was ran as a restaurant called “The Yard of Ale”.

The inn was abandoned for several years, and in January of 1987, it was bought from Livingston County by a group of local investors. Although the building clearly reflected its years of use and neglect, a sympathetic restoration was completed by the fall of 1988. Current owner Brian Simmons started as a cook for previous owners, Jim and Molly Bongiovanni, in 1999 and became owner in 2007. He has brought reliable quality and creativity to the cuisine. He and the staff hope to leave guests with a pleasing and memorable experience.

building old

Legend & functionality of a yard of ale

The origins of the yard of ale date back to the early 17th century, during the reign of King James I (1603-1625). Glass-making in England was then in its infancy; the first glass-making factory had only recently been established. Many of the first yard glasses have not survived due to their brittle nature, until George Ravenscroft (1674) introduced a new glass process known as the flint glass.

The yard of ale was made and used not for normal drinking purposes, but for feast and manly displays of prowess. During Anglo-Saxon times through the Middle Ages, the English nation has always engaged in the traditions of heavy drinking. As put in Young’s quote “England’s Bane” written in 1617, “He is a man of no fashion that can not drink by the dozen, by the yard, so by measure we drink out of measure.”

Legend suggests that the yard was also used in old England to serve the driver of a coach. Upon arriving at their destination and relieving its passengers, the coachman would stay and the length of the yard glass would allow him some refreshment.

Today the yard of ale is approximately 36 inches long, with a capacity of 40oz. A word of caution for yard of ale virgins: Drinking the yard requires some skill to avoid emptying the entire contents all over oneself. The stem of the glass must be carefully raised and quickly spun above the horizontal while drinking; if this is not done, an air pocket forms behind the contents at the base and makes the flow impossible to control.

yard glass