Jun 19, 2018

Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 3, No. 15
Just add water? Not exactly

Jan. 23, 2003

The time has come for us to do more research and post a detailed article at about how light beer is made. A column in south Florida's News-Press by Sam Cook reminded us of this.


He starts: "I've railed on light beer since Miller Lite crashed the market in 1975. Mostly barroom banter. I had no proof light beer was watered down -- except its bad taste -- until today."

He writes that a conversation with Bob Flynn of North Fort Myers makes him convinced he's been right all along. Flynn says he worked for Narragansett Brewery in Cranston, R.I., for 25 years. From Cook's story:

"'There is no secret recipe. Light beer is just watered down beer,' says Flynn, 70. "It's common procedure throughout the industry.'

"Enlighten us, beer man.

"'We took a full, 365-barrel tank of good, lager beer and ran off 100 barrels into cans or bottles. Then they stop the filling machines and pump in 100 barrels of water to the same tank. They change the labels on the cans or bottles to light beer and run off all 365 barrels. That's your light beer.'

"One more thing, he says.

"'None of the guys in the brewery drank light beer.'"

Hold on. We can't say for sure what was done at Narragansett, which closed in 1984 -- before most of today's light beers were born. But we know that Edison Light and Sam Adams Light aren't made that way; and we're about as sure about Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light, etc.

Yes, big brewers do use a method known as "high gravity" brewing to boost production. It's not just the mega-brewers who employ the method -- that's how Yuengling kept up with runaway demand in the 1990s at its Pottsville, Pa., brewery.

And years ago, your editor saw something similar will touring the Eldridge Pope Brewery in Dorchester, England. The brewery, since sold, was most famous for its very strong Thomas Hardy Ale, but the bulk of its sales were every day bitters dispensed in its tied houses and other regional pubs.

Thomas Hardy Country Bitter (1.040 original gravity), Dorchester Bitter (1.032) and Eldridge Pope Best Bitter (1.036) would qualify as "3.2" beers in Oklahoma in Utah but were brimming with flavor when served as real ale.

Brewer Roger Wharton explained that all were produced from the same "mother wort." The gravity was then adjusted (with water, obviously) in the fermenter. The action of the same house yeast on the different worts produced different flavor characteristics, which were further enhanced by the varying degree of dry-hopping in the cask.

The result was a beer less alcoholic than most American light beers, but nobody complained about it being "watered down."

Think what you want about light beers, it seems only fair to note that breweries aren't taking shortcuts in making those beers.

Fred, the Knucklehead

BridgePort Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore., is honoring beer writer Fred Eckhardt by making him its newest "Knucklehead," and his likeness will decorate the 2003 edition of BridgePorts's Old Knucklhead barleywine.

Eckhardt is the dean of American beer writers, has often been quoted in Beer Break, and is perhaps best known for writing "The Essentials of Beer Style."

"We are extremely pleased to continue the tradition of Old Knucklehead that began at the brewery in 1989," said Karl Ockert, BridgePort brewmaster. "And we are privileged to have Fred Eckhardt, the father of Portland's brewing scene, grace the label. He is personally an old friend and mentor, and I am honored that he accepted the title."

Eckhardt will celebrate his "knuckling in" at a ceremony on Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. at BridgePort BrewPub in Portland. The event will feature the tapping of a firkin of Old Knucklehead, the unveiling of the label, and the imprinting of Eckhardt's knuckles. The plaster imprints will be installed in the pub for posterity alongside the imprints of the previous Old Knuckleheads: Alfa Zinkus, Paddy Tillet, J.E. "Bud" Clark, Ray Grimm and Roger Madden. Several previous "knuckleheads" are expected to attend the ceremony.

Tasting notes

Brewed by North Coast Brewing in California
Fred Eckhardt is famous for suggesting that you "listen to your beer" and his tasting note shows why:
The head has a good buzz to delight the ear and the nose is dutifully roasty. This beer has a remarkably delicious flavor and brilliant, deep color, dark but not opaque. The effect on the palate is very nice, with the combination of a good alcohol burn and an excellent balance between roastiness and hoppiness, especially when paired with an aged white cheddar cheese. Something to comfort you while the mad monk glares from the label.

Brewed in Scotland
Whenever the beer is worth listening to, Fred usually is as well. More of his tasting notes:
Strange aromatics. Definitely new olfactory stimulation for me -- heather flowers: "Legendary Pictish Ale." Apparently from the blue people and with surprising flavor, too. The heather flavors are difficult to describe; floral, yes, but much more, almost tea-like, but not heavy, spicy even, with herbal-dryness. This is a well-made beer with unique character -- it grows on one, and the taste lingers not at all unpleasantly.

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