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A historian on beer: Part III

Here is the final installment of your conversation with Maureen Ogle, author of the Ambitious Brew. The first two: Part one ~ Part two

7. How did beer change for you in the course of researching and writing the book?

Ambitious BrewThe short answer is that when I started the book, my only experience with beer was back in college (dime-beer hour at the Vine in Iowa City). And for most of the book, beer remained an abstraction, just something that had earned a fortune for all those dead people I was writing about.

But then I began interviewing the living, and everything changed. The men and women I talked to – Jim Koch, Byron Burch, Nancy Vineyard, Dick Yuengling, and others – were lively, intelligent, fully engaged with the world around them – and utterly passionate about beer.

That got my attention. What was it about beer, I wondered, that inspired someone like Fritz Maytag, for example, who had the brains and ambition to do anything, to fashion a career out of beer? So one day I went to the store and bought some beer (trying to find ones brewed by people I had interviewed) and began tasting. And thinking about what I was tasting, and marveling at the color of these beers (there are few things more beautiful than a fine beer!) I was hooked. Beer, I discovered, was every bit as complex and interesting as wine, perhaps more so. And it tasted as good, if not better, with food.

Do I qualify now as a beer connoisseur? No. No one’s ever gonna ask me to supervise a beer tasting or ask me to judge a competition. But I admire fine beer and I’ve learned enough about beer to know what I like and don’t like. And perhaps most important, I know enough to respect the skill and art required to fashion a fine beer.

Because of the way our “printing press” works we can also include the longer answer:

Brewing is one of the most heavily regulated (and taxed) industries in the United States: federal, state, and local laws determine when and where beer can be sold, who can buy it, and even the wording and content of labels.

That’s not always been the case. The late nineteenth century may not have been the golden age of the beer itself (today we enjoy more variety and the quality of contemporary beers typically surpasses that of ones made a century ago), but it was a halcyon age of few regulations and low taxes.

Congress only levied a tax on beer in 1862 in order to generate revenue to fight the war against the Confederacy. After that taxes drifted upward slowly and fitfully: brewers were well-organized and had plenty of friends in high places. Moreover, selling beer was easier than at any other time in American history. Back in the near-utopian nineteenth century, brewers were allowed to own saloons. Most owned dozens if not hundreds, funneling their lagers directly from brewery to their “tied” taverns.

But then came prohibition, the short-lived experiment in sobriety that fundamentally altered the way brewers operate.

Prohibition was the brainchild of the Anti-Saloon League, a group of social activists who believed alcohol was impeding national progress. Their original goal was simple and logical: shut down the saloons. Close the saloons and brewers would have no place to sell their wares, and they’d be forced to close their own doors.

Between 1895 and the onset of World War I, that plan worked, as one precinct and town, one county and one state after another voted itself “dry.” Even places that remained “wet” imposed new barriers to the brewers’ way of life, levying enormous license fees on saloonkeepers and new taxes on brewers, and ordering saloons shut on Sunday,

Beer came back in 1933, but the good old days did not. The laws that legalized beer also surrounded brewing with a jungle of regulations and restrictions: No more “tied” houses. Every word of every beer label had to be approved, and at multiple levels: what a state regulator might allow on a label, a city licensing board might deny. Taxes soared, crippling marginal beermakers and driving them out of business.

And so it continues today: brewing is a fiercely competitive business, but behind the headlines of Anheuser-Busch duking it out with Miller lies another tale, as brewers struggle to comply with federal laws; with fifty sets of licensing and sales laws in the fifty states; and thousands of other regulations imposed by counties and municipalities. And the taxes go up and up and up ….

Making beer? It’s never been harder than it is today. All the more reason to admire and appreciate those brave souls who enter the business every day, men and women whose passion for fine beer outweighs the burden of regulations that will shape their working lives.


A historian on beer: Part II

We recently asked Maureen Ogle, author of the Ambitious Brew, a series of questions. This is the second in a series of three posts with her answers. (Part one.)

Ambitious Brew4. How is this book similar/different than the previous two? What’s next?

Ambitious Brew was much more ambitious (no pun intended) than my two previous books. The Key West book covers a longer period of time, but its scope is much narrower. The plumbing book, my “tenure” book, was written for an academic audience and so it had to follow a certain formula.

But with the beer book, I could let my historical creativity roam and the subject itself was so rich and so complex that the project took on a life of its own. Most of the time, the material dictated and I just tried to hang on for the ride.

Also, the book taught me a great deal about myself and about how to “do” history. I think (I hope!) I’m a much better historian now. I believe, anyway, that I rose to the challenge posed by beer, a fascinating, complex beverage with an equally fascinating, complex history.

Having said that, I should also note that my three books share certain attributes. First, I’m fascinated with the way in which American values — our “culture” — shape our material world, whether that be plumbing, cities, or food. Along the way, I’m drawn to the everyday “stuff” that we take for granted and to the lives of men and women whose drive and ambition compel them to create something from nothing.

The plumbing book, for example, examined the way in which the values of the 1840s and 1850s shaped the form and function of household water supply and waste systems. Not ideas about public health or germs, as one might expect, but a desire on the part of a newly emerging (and somewhat insecure) middle class to promote progress and individual initiative. The Key West book chronicles the way in which a handful of ambitious dreamers transformed that infertile island into a profitable venture.

Ambitious Brew examines an everyday staple by looking at the nineteenth-century German emigrés who abandoned their traditional lager and invented a new world version that appealed to the American palate. Their success transformed beer and brewing from a local and small-scale enterprise into one of the nation’s largest industries. The book also records the history of the late twentieth century visionaries who challenged corporate complacency, built “micro” breweries from scrap metal, and reinvented the industry.

I’ve already started a new book: a history of meat in America, from the great pork “factories” along the Ohio River in the 1820s, to the “organic” ranchers of the 1970s. I’m fascinated by the production and consumption of food and drink – perhaps the most revealing of all human activities – so I expect to have a grand time with this project.

5. Pick the three misconceptions you’d most like to set straight.

I think the biggest misconception is that in the 1950s, brewers dumped “adjuncts” such as corn and rice to their beer into their brewvats and did so in order to reduce production costs; to make a cheap beer to sell at a high price. Not so. Brewers began adding corn and rice to their beers in the 1860s and 1870s because non-German-Americans wouldn’t drink a heavy all-malt beer. They wanted a lighter-bodied, more effervescent beer, and the only way to make one using American barley was by adding other grains to absorb the excess proteins. Moreover, those adjunct-based beers were expensive: in the 1870s, a barrel of adjunct-based beer cost about two dollars more to make than an all-malt beer.

Another misconception is that after World War II, brewery numbers plunged as the rapacious giant Anheuser-Busch drove smaller brewers out of business. Again, not so. Between 1945 and the early 1960s, beer consumption declined or remained stagnant. Americans weren’t interested in drinking beer (they either didn’t drink at all, thanks to the prohibitionists, or they preferred hard liquor) and every brewer struggled to stay afloat.

Were the big guys more likely to survive? Sure, because they had the money to invest in things like television advertising, which was a new medium in the 1950s, and because they were able to exploit national markets more easily than were smaller brewers. But the period from 1945 to c. 1961 (when the first wave of baby boomers hit legal drinking age) was the darkest period in American brewing, and no one had an easy time of things.

Third, when I started the book, I assumed that Prohibition began in 1920. It didn’t. The Anti-Saloon League, the lobbying group that spearheaded the prohibition movement, set up shop in 1895 with a plan to drive saloons out of business. They succeeded: by 1910, half of all Americans already lived under some form of prohibition, either local or state. Brewers failed to organize a resistance movement, and were unable to fend off this piecemeal destruction. By the time the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act went into effect in January 1920, brewers had already been out of business for over a year.

Fourth (I know you only asked for three…..): Pabst Blue Ribbon labels still carry a medallion indicating that the beer was chosen as “America’s Best” at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. It wasn’t! (See Chapter Three . . .)

6. Which three principals in the book (dead or alive) would you most like to have a beer with?

Oh, boy, that’s tough. Adolphus Busch and Frederick Pabst for certain. (Although I feel as though I’ve already met them: For about three months, I dreamed about them every night. We ate dinner together, walked through their breweries, took carriage rides. . . . Sounds odd, but that’s what happens to writers when we spend months on end with people, dead or alive!)

Who else? Phillip Best, the man who founded what became Pabst Brewing (Frederick Pabst married his daughter). I’d love to know if he really rolled dice to determine who got the brewery, himself or his brother.

Truth is, I’d love to meet everyone. I’ve met most of the living brewers who are featured in the book, but it would grand to sit down and talk to everyone else who landed on my pages!

Tomorrow: How did beer change for you in the course of researching and writing the book?


A historian on beer: Part I

We recently asked Maureen Ogle, author of the Ambitious Brew, a series of questions. The e-mail conversation turned out to be long enough that we’ll post her answers to seven questions in three parts.

Ambitious BrewFirst, a bit about the book. It is ambitious itself, seeking to tell the history of American beer in a different way – thus passing on Colonial history we’ve read about many times over – and starting with . . . well, that’s our first question.

Those interested mostly in the American beer revolution will want to turn toward the back of the book, because Ogle tracked down the elusive Jack McAuliffe. But you should start from the beginning to understand the choices financially successful brewers made along the way, decisions that by the second half the twentieth century left America with one dominant beer style, the light lager.

Let’s get started.

1. Why start in 1840?

From the perspective of someone in the brewing industry, a more logical place to start the book might have been, say, 1620 and the first colonists. But I’m a historian, not a beermaker. So I was looking for the historically significant story. And that tale – the moment when beer surpassed spirits in popularity and an industry emerged – began with the vast wave of German immigration that began in the 1840s.

Had a thriving brewing industry existed in the colonial period, the book would have opened in, say, the eighteenth century. But there wasn’t and so it doesn’t. That’s not to say there wasn’t any beer. Most people brewed at home, making a low-alcohol beer that functioned as the equivalent of our safe tap water. But that’s not a particularly interesting story! In the colonial era, the story of alcohol – the historically significant story – is of rum. But even after the revolution had ended, spirits were more important than beer: In 1820, there were some 14,000 distilleries, but a mere two hundred breweries. That alone tells me where beer stood in the hearts of minds of the American people!

2. How did your academic training influence your decision to pick the topic of beer? You write the book totally changed from start to finish. How?

First I experienced my “wham!” moment (when I saw a beer truck and thought “Hmmm….wonder if anyone has written about beer.”) But then the historian in me took over and asked two crucial questions:

First, were there any other histories of beer out there? If there a zillion of them, then this project was a non-starter.

But the answer was no; there weren’t any other beer histories of the sort my brain was starting to fashion. So the second question kicked in: Did that mean there was no “story” to tell? Was the history of beer worth several years of my life?

Off to the library, where I devoted a week or so rooting around in the few books written about beer to see if I could find a bare-bones outline of beer’s American history and, from that, determine if I could shape it into something worthwhile.

Next, I spent nearly a year writing a proposal that described the book (this is the document that an agent uses to sell the book idea to a publisher). But writing a proposal of an imagined book, and writing a book based on months and months of in-depth research are two different things. My original proposal outlined a particular narrative, all based on what I thought I’d find once I began the research. But, as always happens, the research itself turned up one surprise after another and led me off in directions I could not have imagined.

3. What was hardest in doing research? Easiest: Most frustrating as a historian?

Hands down, the first three chapters, which cover 1844 to Prohibition, were the toughest. I crawled through a good many of the proverbial haystacks hunting for materials, facts, and details. Most of the nineteenth century breweries are gone, and so are their records. The largest repositories of archival material are at Miller and Anheuser-Busch, and both refused to allow me access. (They weren’t being jerks; most corporations would be reluctant to let an outsider in.)

Had it not been for nineteenth-century newspapers (especially the Milwaukee Sentinel and the New York Times, both of which are indexed) and trade journals such as Western Brewer and American Brewer, I’m not sure I could have written those first three chapters. It took me as long to complete them as the next five chapters combined.

Things became much easier once I hit the twentieth century. Prohibition is well-documented, as is the brewers’ response to it. And for post-repeal brewing, I had all the magazines, trade journals, and newspapers I could handle. Indeed, toward the end, I almost had too much information. Plus, for the first time I was interviewing living people, and they all had plenty to say!

Certainly the most frustrating part of the whole gig was A-B’s refusal to cooperate. The company historian taunted me with the fact that his vault contained hundreds and hundreds of letters written by Adolphus Busch as well as thousands of other company documents as well. I don’t even want to think about what’s in there and what I might have been able to do with it.

Tomorrow: How this book is different than non-beer histories she has written, and setting misconceptions straight.


Everything you need to know about brewing (really)

Since the Real Beer Page, as it was known back then, began hosting the work of John Palmer we’ve known the chord his straightforward explanation about how to brew beer strike with readers.

His book, How to Brew, began as in Internet site we host. It evolved into a second edition that he self-published in 2001, and by then was already considered an essential addition to any homebrewer’s library.

How to BrewNow it’s better still. How to Brew: Everything you need to know to brew beer right the first time retains the same pick-this-up-and-brew-right-now spirit as when Palmer wrote How to Brew Your First Beer. That 12-page document quickly got passed around the world in 1993, despite the fact there were no web browsers and homebrewers had to rely on bulletin boards and ftp downloads (we’ve still got files saved to prove it).

There’s a reason that many homebrew shop owners have made How to Brew an insert in kits they sell for beginners. It works. Follow the instructions and you’ll make good beer. Read more and you’ll understand why. He peals away the mysteries of brewing in layers, so there’s always a more for even an advanced homebrewer to think about.

Palmer calls How to Brew: Everything you need to know to brew beer right the first time the third edition and it’s better because: a) homebrewing continues to evolve with new methods and new tools available to brewers; b) Palmer had time to investigate more topics; c) Brewers Publications provided back-end expertise; and d) a vital part of that expertise was the technical scrutiny provided by Ray Daniels and Randy Mosher. That’s why the acknowledgements thank them for “asking the tough questions that made it better.”

Anecdotal evidence indicates a resurgence in interest in homebrewing – and expect that to get a shot when Extreme Brewing : An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Unique Craft Beer at Home by Sam Calagione comes out in November. Although brewing beer is thousands of years old it’s important for newcomers to have access to the most up-to-date information. How to Brew provides that.

For instance, batch sparging and no-sparge draining have been investigated and discussed in depth by homebrewers in recent years, and the procedures can be called common practice. To learn about them you had to follow the discussions or track down the occasional print articles. Palmer has put the information together in one place – again with the sort of basics that suit the by-the-seat-of-the-pants brewer or one that prefers detailed calculations.

Palmer also clearly comes from the homebrew culture. He writes in a language that homebrewers understand – different than that used in texts for professional brewers who often have concerns different that amateur brewers.

One of the endorsements on the back of the book sums it up particularly well. Matt Brynildson, who has guided Firestone Walker to the mid-size brewery championship in each of the last two World Beer Cups, writes:

“The hard science, rules, and attention to detail that the professional brewer lives by have been distilled down to an easily understood manual for home brewing success.”


Weekly Therapy: The people’s choice

Working for the Anheuser-Busch breweries in Columbus, Ohio, and Merrimack, N.H., has been a little more fun recently.

Why? Burnin’ Helles, Leaf Peeper Pils and Old Eyepopper for starters.

The idea to have a contest that lets customers pick what might on tap in their local pub is hardly new, and the idea for this one might have come from the marketing department but A-B’s promotion has involved brewery employees just as much any similar program would at a small-batch brewery.

This is where things stand now: Residents in New England and Ohio can log onto to cast their vote for a beer they figure they want to drink.

In Ohio the choices include: Burnin’ Helles, Racer Snake Red and Old Eyepopper. In New England they are: Devil’s Hop Yard IPA, Stone Face Ale and Leaf Peeper Pils. The names and beer styles were created by local employees at the Columbus breweries. Voting continues through Sunday, the winning beers will be brewed at the Columbus and Merrimack breweries, and then go on tap in their respective regions June 26.

Most voters will probably make their decision based only on the online descriptions, but batches of each of the beers were brewed in A-B’s St. Louis pilot brewery and are available for sampling.

At Merrimack, more than 500 brewery employees and local distributors contributed ideas, which included suggesting a beer style and a beer name. Then a committee of 12, chosen from different departments such as accounting or packaging, picked the three beers and formulated recipes.

“This was a fun project,” said assistant brewmaster Mitch Steele. “We put up a spread sheet, bounced around ideas about hops, hopping schedules, malt, and so on.”

All three choices in New England are ales. “We’ve wanted to brew more ales out of Merrimack,” Steele said. One simple reason is that Bare Knuckle Stout is brewed in Merrimack, and it’s easier to keep yeast healthy when it is put to work regularly.

Merrimack was a logical choice because of the strong craft brewing scene in the Northeast and because the brewery can produce smaller batch sizes (400 barrels versus 1,000 and more at most A-B breweries). “I think part of it was the success of the seasonal beers (released beginning last fall). The idea of doing some regional beers has been around for a while,” Steele said.

Steele formerly worked in the specialty beer group, formulating recipes that were sold under the Michelob Specialty and A-B American Originals brands. Included were many recipes that never reached the public (although they made the company picnic more fun).

“We tried to get an IPA out there,” Steele said, thinking back to 1997. Now New England customers can vote for Devil’s Hopyard IPA, which is hopped with Cascade, Columbus and Palisades to the tune of 60 IBU.

“I think we are a bit more adventurous than nine years ago, don’t you?” Steele said.

“We’re trying to provide an alternative for our core drinker.”

Who wouldn’t notice the similarity between the Devil’s Hopyard IPA name and that of the immensely popular Victory HopDevil IPA from Downington, Pa.?

We’d rather A-B picked a different name, but it’s also our opinion that members of the HopDevil Nation aren’t likely to jump ship based on a name. Meanwhile, if the Devil’s Hopyard is the voters’ choice, a few A-B loyalists have are going to have an opportunity to broaden their beer horizons. And that’s a good thing.


Weekly Therapy: Five beer myths

Every once in a while it is good to revisit these beer myths and set the facts straight.

– The best beer is sold in green or clear bottles rather than “plain brown” ones.

In the years following World War II, in part because there was a shortage of brown glass, European brewers shipped beers in green bottles. It became a status symbol for imports. The color of the bottle no longer says anything about the quality of beer inside, and as we’ve written before green glass gives less protection against beer becoming light struck and developing a “skunky” taste. More on that.

– Ales are served at room temperature in the United Kingdom.

This story also goes back to World War II, when American GIs spent considerable time in England. Cask-conditioned (or “real”) ale is served at cellar temperature, which is in the low- to mid-50s.

– Wheat beers always should be served with a slice of lemon.

This is a matter of personal taste. The tartest of wheat beers, such as Berliner Weisse, are usually served with lemon, woodruff or syrups to cut the acidity. However, wheat beers, from weissbiers to Bavarian weizens to English and American wheat beers, cover a broad range. If you like lemon with your wheat beer, by all means enjoy it that way. But don’t feel obligated.

– Imported beers are stronger than American beers.

This is a function of the alcohol by volume (abv) versus alcohol by weight (abw) issue we’ve discussed here before. Many U.S. citizens think the rest of the world measures alcohol like they do (by weight) and don’t realize that 5% by volume is no stronger than 4% by weight. More on that.

– Light beers are much less likely to give you a beer belly.

A bottle of Miller Lite has 96 calories, while a bottle of Samuel Adams Boston Lager has 160. A brisk 20-minute walk is all that separates those two. So unless you drink your beer a case at a time …

Although beer is partially to blame for beer bellies – it contains no fat, but those calories and carbohydrates add up – the chips, pretzels, pizza, etc. that many people enjoy with beer deserve as much of the credit. A full-flavored beer with a light snack has far fewer calories than a light beer with a pile of nachos.

Want more? Beer Hunter Michael Jackson offers a dozen more.


Weekly Therapy: The Black & Tan

Beer cocktails – concoctions that mix two different beers or even beer with a variety of spirits – have recently been touted as a good marketing tool in U.S. bars that otherwise pay little attention to beer as a beverage with taste.

We generally leave it to others to discuss the “joy” of mixing vodka, gin, tequila, cranberry juice and beer (yes, there’s a bar that puts all those in the same glass). After all, brewers worked hard to produce a drink that can be appreciated on its own. But the fact is that blending two beers together to produce something different – and this may take place in the brewery itself or wherever you are enjoying beer – is hardly new.

StoutThe best known mix is a Black and Tan or Half-and-Half, and whether these are the same or different depends on where you order them. With since everybody is thinking about St. Patrick’s Day on Friday, it seems like a good time to review the basics:

– You may use any brand stout or lighter colored ale or lager to make a Black and Tan (many brewpubs do this with house beers), but most patrons of Irish theme pubs in the United States think in terms of Guinness Stout and either Bass ale or Harp lager.

– The layering of a Black and Tan – that is the dark stout floating above the lighter beer – is said to be common only in American bars. When you begin drinking the beers will mix anyway, so some places choose to let them mix as they are poured.

– It is easier to produce a layered Black and Tan if the stout is dispensed from the special spouts use by Guinness, Murphy’s and Beamish as well as those used in some American brewpubs for their own stouts. Also if the stout is pushed with nitrogen. You begin by filling half the glass with the ale or lager. Next, slow the control on the spout tap and pour the stout slowly over the back of a spoon (Guinness even makes a decorative spoon just for this purpose). The stout will remain on top.

The name itself does not come from the use of a black beer and something lighter. It is derived from a political reference to the black and khaki military uniforms worn by the special auxiliary force – “The Black and Tans” – who were brought in to Ireland fight the Irish nationalists in 1920.


Weekly Therapy: Tomme Arthur Q&A

You might have heard that Port Brewing, which operates three brewery pubs in Southern California, acquired the former Stone Brewing facility in San Marcos. Now it’s time to find out what that means.

Tomme Arthur, who oversees brewing operations for Port Brewing, provided some answers just before heading off to Belgium with four other American craft brewers.

Arthur created some of the most sought after American craft beers of the young 21st century – an extraordinary range that includes Cuvee de Tomme, the ultra-hoppy Hop 15, saisons with a distinctive American twist and many others – but most have been served only at the Solano Beach facility where they were made or a few special beer events around the country.

Now they’ll be available to a much wider audience – although you won’t see them in your local grocery store soon – and a conversation with Arthur makes it obvious that he’ll have a lot more exciting news in the coming months.

Tell us about the company that bought the former Stone brewery.

TA: A new entity known as Port Brewing LLC. The goal of our new operation is to translate many of the fabulous beers that we as “Pizza Port” have been releasing and take them to a wider audience. We will also be building a new brand known as Lost Abbey as part of our operation.

What’s the system size and yearly capacity?

TA: The system is the former Stone Brewing 30-barrel brewhouse. It came with two 30-barrel fermenters, one 90-barrel fermenter and one 120-barrel fermenter. Total annual output through these tanks alone makes over 5000 barrels possible. This number is subject to change based on fermentation profiles of beers we are contemplating. We also have made a major investment in oak, which we believe will allow us to produce no less than 6 beers per year from these barrels.

How much oak?

TA: We now own 94 oak barrels, both bourbon and French Oak wine barrels.

We have already filled 6 bourbon barrels, and the first beer will spend 6 months breathing in the bourbon before being released later this year.

These wine barrels will be filled with all kinds of critters and fun bugs in the coming months. Some of the Cuvee de Tomme will find a home in these barrels (to offset some of the major bourbon flavor of the new oak blended at bottling time). We will also be releasing a new version of the Le Woody (the blonde version) as well as the Le Woody Brune, which will have a name change and slight recipe variation – different cherries.

We are making a major commitment to barrel aging and look to have six beers available in from wood after about 18 months of being up and running. Two (beers) will be strictly from bourbon barrels, one will be a blend (Cuvee) and three will be from the (bug-ladden) French Oak. All will be bottled. One will be brewed under Port Brewing brand and the other five will all be Lost Abbey beers.

What will be available beyond draft beer?

TA: As part of our expansion we have signed up with Stone Distributing, who will be handling our Southern California Distribution. The first cases of Sharkbite Red have already started hitting stores. This will be the only 6-pack from Port Brewing for now. We anticipate releasing a second beer in 12 ounce-bottles, but will let the market dictate what that release will be.

Our focus for bottling will be on larger format bottles. Most of the Pizza Port beers will be bottled and labeled under Port Brewing and sold in 22-ounce bottles. We hopes to have the first ready by early April. Beers like Shark Attack, Hop 15, Santa’s Little Helper and even new beers from Jeff Bagby (brewer for the Carlsbad pub) like Hop Suey may get a shot at hitting some glass in the not-so-distant future.

For the Lost Abbey, we will use a hood and wire unit. Like Russian River, Allagash and Unibroue we will be bottling in 750ml brown bottles imported into the states. All of the bottled Lost Abbey beers will be bottle conditioned with live yeast. The barrel-aged beers will most likely follow the Russian River beers into the market in 375ml glass. It is quite possible that limited runs of larger bottles may happen as well although, but we have not purchased a corker to do bottles larger than 1.5 liters.

What beers/brands that will be distributed?

TA: Port Brewing Co will be making Sharkbite Red Ale, Wipeout IPA and Amigo Lager for draft distribution. Only the red will be bottled. Seasonal beers will follow when possible.

On the Lost Abbey side, we envision four beers available in 750ml cork finished bottles. The first is Avant Garde.

I love the name of this one for many reasons. The dictionary definition:
A group active in the invention and application of new techniques in a given field, especially in the arts.
Of, relating to, or being part of an innovative group, especially one in the arts: avant-garde painters; an avant-garde theater piece.

This name just resonates what we will be about – finding ways to stay ahead of the curve and at the forefront of expression. The beer will be brewed in a quasi biere de garde fashion. In many ways, we expect it will be a table beer.

It will be brewed to about 6% abv with a lager yeast at ale fermentation temperatures. We will also be custom roasting some of the malt using the restaurant pizza ovens (yummy garlic). We brewed a pilot batch in Solana Beach and can’t wait to make it on a larger scale. The beer will sport a burnt blonde color with notes of freshly baked bread and a certain fruitiness from the yeast combined with Brewers Gold hops and Spalt from the French countryside.

As a brewer, what will you be able to do that you haven’t before?

TA: Not bump my head on the cellar in the brewery for starters. . . .

Then, we hope to stop having to apologize as we have in the past that many of these great beers aren’t available outside of San Diego. Honestly I am most excited about working on the barrel program and developing the Cuvee on a larger scale as well as other barrel-aged beers that weren’t possible in the past. The packaging of many of these “elusive” beers will enable us to be in more places than in the past. We are looking at opening up new states and distribution agreements in the next few years.

Since this deal went public online, we have been flooded with calls from people wanting our beers. While this feels great, we know that we have to take care of our backyard first before we head east.

Where will your beer be distributed?

TA: Initially only in Southern California to begin with. Arizona and Northern California would be next. We hope to have some beer on the East Coast in Philly and DC before the end of 2006.


Weekly Therapy: The Spirit of Sūpris

Hops farmers in the Hallertau region of Germany like to call their product the spirit of beer.

Although BridgePort Brewing brewmaster Karl Ockert chose to showcase a hop from Slovenia in BridgePort’s newest beer he understands the sentiment perfectly.

SuprisOckert took a side trip to the Slovenian farms last year on the way to Munich to serve as a judge at the Brewing Industry International Awards. He was taken not just with the Styrian Golding hops that ended up in Sūpris, but the spirit of hop farms themselves.

Most are 15 to 20 acres in size – compared to the 450 acres in the Pacific Northwest – and each farmer operates an independent business. “The had their own pickers and bailers. Their kilns were about the size of my office,” Ockert said.

“They were working when we showed up, but then everything stopped,” he said. “They came out with plates of homemade bread and local meats. You got the feeling of a different pace of life, and that same feeling is in the beer.”

He decided right then to buy specific lots. By the time he headed home to Portland, Oregon, he’d made a similar choice of malt – a variety of pilsner a colleague come across while touring Bavarian malt houses – and picked out a couple of bottles of Belgian beer he particularly liked. Eventually he would harvest the yeast from them.

In the trip back he thought about sitting in Munich’s beer halls and how the flavors weren’t quite the same anywhere else. “I had all this simmering in my head,” he said. “I thought maybe we could break out of this mold people on the West Coast have, trying to make the hoppiest IPA, the amberest Amber.”

BridgePort brewed 10 test batches of the beer that would be Sūpris, ranging from 5% abv to 10%.

The final release, 6% abv, manages to showcase all the ingredients. Sūpris is notably fruity, with banana and fleshy fruits throughout, and has just enough hops at the finish to keep it from being sweet. The Styrian Golding hops mingle perfectly with spiciness from the yeast, providing distinctive aroma and flavor.

Ockert chose these particular Styrians from the Slovenian lowlands. “Another year the hills might have been better,” he said.

How will he know next year? “I hope I’ll have to go back,” he said.

That’s the spirit.


Weekly Therapy: Cupid and hops

Valentine’s Day is not one of the big beer selling holidays. Industrial brewers move a ton of beer for Fourth of July, Memorial Day, the Super Bowl, etc. The December holidays are important for specialty beer producers.

Valentine’s Day? Pretty much another Tuesday. Or is it?

Beer certainly has seen enough promotional material to suggest otherwise. Importers such as Merchant du Vin, extolling the virtues of Lindemans lambics; craft brewers such at Boston Beer, working with a New York chef to create special recipes to go with its Chocolate Bock; and a variety of brewpubs offering special dinners … everybody is getting in the act.

It makes a good story, which is probably why the Liquid Solutions column that Lisa Morrison writes for television station website around the country received unusually prominent play this past week when she turned the spotlight on Valentine’s Day:

When better but the dark nights of February to seduce your sweetie with a sumptuous symphony of the senses? And what better way to woo the object of your affections than with the delectable duo of chocolate — and beer?

That’s right. Chocolate. And beer. This is the Valentine’s Day to get racy. Be daring! Toss aside those erstwhile notions of red wine or champagne and truffles and tempt your honey’s taste buds with a combination that is sure to create fireworks.

(Here’s a link to column as it appeared in Baltimore.)

We think the bottom line should be that beer and chocolate are a treat together, whether in February or October. And romance should be year-round, right?

A couple years back at, Lucy Saunders quoted Rogue Ales Public House manager Russ Menegat: “Chocolate releases the same dopamine chemicals in the brain as romantic love does, and beer tends to reduce social inhibitions. If that doesn’t sound like the makings of an interesting evening, I don’t know what does…”

Saunders noted you couldn’t grab just any beer, that you should match the flavors of roasted cocoa beans and roasted barley malts. Her story began, “If the Belgian monks who brew beer call it ‘liquid bread,’ then for Valentine’s Day, think of it as ‘liquid cake.'”

Which brings us back to where we started. Are we really talking about Valentine’s Day? Lew Bryson riffs on the subject in his monthly “Buzz”” “… it’s almost amusing to see the array of choices offered for the romantic beer drinker. But the subtext here is plain. This is not about beer for romance. It’s about beer for women.”

It’s been more than a dozen years since Goose Island Brewing founder John Hall said that women were more willing to try – and then enjoy – new beers than men. But marketers still focus on promoting beers that are “easy” (light, fruity, whatever) for women to drink.

That’s silly. Listen to Lew:

I happen to believe that women are just like men when it comes to their tastes. That women, like men, have different tastes as individuals, and that they are not gender-selective for sweets and glop any more than men are. That women deserve to be treated with the same respect when selecting a beer that men do, not a patronizing assumption that they want something light, fruity, candyish, or wine-like. They, like men, may not even know what they like. But I believe that the best way to find that out — for both of us — is to offer them the same kind of choices that I would a man.

For more on this, check out a Roundtable of Women Beer Drinkers from our archives (2002).


Weekly Therapy: More on beer’s image

Did you wake up this morning feeling better about beer?

Any different at all?

Should you feel different because the “Here’s to Beer” campaign officially kicked off during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl?

It wasn’t one of the commercials generally talked about this morning as every publication from the Wall Street Journal to USA Today debates who had the best spot, but Seth Stevenson of Slate did offer some thoughts:

An ad from something called the “Beer Institute” shows us people all over the world enjoying their brewskis. “Here’s to Beer,” says the tagline. I’ll drink to that. But what I’m wondering is whether I can snag some sort of fellowship at the Beer Institute. Is it like a think tank? Can I get beer tenure? (By the way, this ad was actually paid for by Anheuser-Busch. Miller is also a sponsor of the Beer Institute but apparently scoffed at the idea of random beer cheerleading. Miller spokesman quote: “We are happy and supportive of Anheuser-Busch spending its own money on an industry campaign. We will be making our own investments in marketing Miller brands.”)

Yes, A-B paid for the spot ($2.5 million for 30 seconds!) and the St. Louis-based brewing giant has been the driving force behind an effort to improve beer’s image. You may have thought we wrote enough about the subject on Friday, so we’ll try to keep the thoughts short:

Jay Brooks has already unloaded on this campaign a couple of times in his blog. Give that a read and we’ll try to not repeat much here.

– The Here’s to Beer website looks and feels like others promoting drinks companies who command a premium price for their products: Heineken, Grey Goose Vodka, Corona and even Sam Adams.

That makes the target audience pretty obvious. When Anheuser-Busch executive Robert Lachky began promoting the idea for this effort last fall he said, “Remember, the enemy is hard liquor and wine.” He outlined a four-prong consumer campaign that would center on the social value of beer, the “romance” of the product, viewing beer differently and the health benefits of beer.

Jay complains, “If you want to turn someone on to better beer, this is not the place to send them.”

That would be the point. This campaign is not about “better beer” but about convincing consumers to buy the international lagers they are turning away from (for beer made in small-batch breweries and other drink products).

– We’ll follow with interest about how this plays out. The idea sounds good: Improve beer’s image. Then stop to think about it. Does New Belgium need a better image? Sierra Nevada? Saint Arnold Brewing? Victory Brewing? We could list hundreds more that don’t need an image facelift.

But they may well benefit by osmosis, or perhaps as the campaign takes twists and turns along the way.

Lachky promised A-B won’t get discouraged easily. “I think you’re talking about a two-year play at least,” he said.

As a follow up to the “Slainte” commercial that ran during the Super Bowl, director Spike Lee has made two spots where a celebrity is asked who he or she would share a beer with.

The first features actor Michael Imperioli, tough-guy Chris of the Sopranos, toasting another tough-guy: Humphrey Bogart. That ad may run during the Winter Olympic Games. The other commercial, expected to debut at the start of baseball season, features Lee himself toasting baseball great Jackie Robinson.

Lee knows how to tell a story, just as small-batch brewers know how to tell a story. We’re pretty sure that A-B can figure out how to tell a story, but the brewery (and other producers of international lagers) need to come up with one we want to hear . . . make that one we want to drink.


Weekly Therapy: Why skunky beer is skunky

Cheers to the Wall Street Journal for a deciphering the code large brewers use in listing “freshness dates.” (Unfortunately, WSJ is a paid site, so we only linked to the front page).

It begins: “A loaf of bread has it. So does a carton of milk. But if you’re looking for the expiration date on a bottle of beer, forget about it — for many brewers, that information is a closely guarded secret.”

But reporter Bruce Knecht reveals some of the secrets. For example:

Take Sapporo, a Japanese beer we purchased in Los Angeles, which was imprinted with “K1205FL” on the bottom. Lost in translation? Well, the code indicates the beer was made Oct. 12, 2005. In the case of Sapporo, the first letter represents the month of manufacture: “A” for January, “B” for February and so on, through “M” for December. (As if the system weren’t complicated enough, this one, like many of these codes, has an extra twist: The month code skips over the letter “I” and uses “J” for September.) The next two digits, “12,” refer to the day of the month, and the two numbers after that, “05,” are the last two digits of the year.

Corona uses two different alphabetical codes. The year, the first character, is coded from A for 2001 to F for 2006, while the months go from L for January to A for December. The day of the month is expressed numerically. So the bottle we bought with the code “EE08” was made Aug. 8, 2005. The company doesn’t publicly disclose its code, but people familiar with the company’s practice confirm our translation.

Track down a copy of the Weekend edition if you can, or find it in your local library. The story includes a chart telling you how to read the code on 15 beers, ranging from Anchor to Tecate.

Although “skunky beer” is at the center of the story, it doesn’t exactly explain how that ties into freshness. So just in case you were wondering . . .

Few beer tasting terms are more descriptive or straightforward than “skunky.” Quite simply, a skunky beer emits an aroma it didn’t have when it left the brewery.

The smell is the product of the chemical reaction that takes place in the bottle when bright light strikes the hops, creating what’s technically known as “light struck” beer. The reaction is stronger with paler and hoppier beers. The resulting chemical is identical to that in a skunk’s defense system, and light-struck beer puts off one of the most powerful aromas around.

Green and clear bottles do little to protect a beer from skunking, and while dark brown bottles are much better they are far from perfect. Because many of the best known imports come in clear or green bottles consumers have come to associate a skunky aroma with imported, often more expensive beer. That doesn’t mean their brewers intended them to taste that way.

The brighter the light and the longer bottles sit in that light the stronger the skunky smell will be. Even dark brown bottles won’t guard a beer from the bright fluorescent lights popular in grocery stores and many other beer retail outlets for very long.

You don’t have to settle for that beer. In some stores you’ll see six-packs sitting on tops of cases. Don’t grab that one, but get your beer from inside the case. A sealed case is even better. If you want beer from the cooler don’t be shy about asking if there are unopened cases in the cooler and buying a six-pack from one of those.

Buying beer that has been kept out of the light gives you a better chance of getting a “skunk free” beer. It’s up to you to keep it that way — mostly by continuing to keep it out of direct light — until you drink it.


Weekly Therapy: Books and history

You might already know that the name of bock beer comes from the German town of Einbeck. But did you know this?

“About the composition of Einbeck beer we learn that is was made two-thirds of barley malt and one-third of wheat malt, but lightly kilned, and was brewed only in winter. Of course, it was a top-fermented beer, ‘but very different from the top-fermented beers of nowadays,’ and is said to have been hopped very strong, and with hops that grew in the environs of Einbeck, where numerous hop-yards were in cultivation.”

Origin and HistoryJohn Arnold wrote that in Origin And History Of Beer And Brewing, one of two books rich in beer history recently made available in reprint form from The other is Louis Pasteur’s Études sur la Bière (Studies On Fermentation).

BeerBooks.comfounder Carl Miller said he has seen a strong and growing demand for rare and early brewing literature in recent years. We hope this is a sound business venture, because we’ve long benefited from his affection for beer history. Visit to see what we mean.

“We’re reprinting these works because beer enthusiasts have become more sophisticated in the types of material they seek out,” Miller said. “Many have moved beyond the contemporary books on brewing history, and want to go a little deeper. They want to get closer to the roots of the subject, and these books help them do that.”

Miller contracted with a leading library preservation institution to digitally scan, enhance and reproduce each book directly from a first edition copy. “We want readers to see the pages as they were first published,” he said. “Illustrations, original pagination, even graphic style and page layouts can be almost as important as the text itself.”

Arnold makes the scope of his book apparent in the introduction, writing he was guided by “the conviction that a history of beer ought to be written only by duly weighing the intimate connection existing with the general cultural history of those race, nation, peoples who habitually make and consume it, in so far at least as it is a history dealing not merely with the technical development of brewing.”

The book doesn’t contain much that happened after the 18th century and doesn’t try to be a comprehensive history – for instance, leaving much of what occurred in England to other texts.

Pasteur coverIt’s hard to imagine now, but before Pasteur proved them right in the mid-19th century, the few biologists who held that yeast was the cause of, and not the product of, fermentation were ridiculed. Manufacturers of wine, vinegar and beer didn’t know if a week or two after production they’d have something they could sell or would have to dump – and the scientific establishment offered no help.

That set the state for Pasteur to prove that living cells (yeast) were responsible for forming alcohol from sugar, and that contaminating microorganisms turned the fermentations sour. He identified and isolated the specific microorganisms responsible for normal and abnormal fermentations in production of wine, beer, and vinegar. He showed that if he heated wine, beer, and milk to moderately high temperatures for a few minutes, he could kill living microorganism and thereby sterilize (pasteurize), the batches and prevent their degradation.

It should be surprising that the sub-title of Studies on Fermentation is The Diseases of Beer, Their Causes, and the Means of Preventing Them.

In the preface, he writes: “I need not hazard any prediction concerning the advantages likely to accrue to the brewing industry from the adoption of such a process of brewing as my study of the subject has enabled me to devise, and from an application of the novel facts upon which this process is founded. Time is the best appraiser of scientific work, and I am not unaware that an industrial discovery rarely produces all its fruits in the hands of its first inventor.”

As Randy Mosher points out in Radical Brewing, ancients were clearly aware of the magic yeast (the Sumerians had 50 words for it) performed. But today we’re happy today to still marvel at that magic and not end up with sour beer (unless, of course, that’s what you want). You don’t have to read Pasteur to understand why, but it’s as close as we’ll ever come to listening to him discuss his breakthrough work.

Be warned that these books are neither light nor necessarily easy reading. Pasteur was writing late in the 19th century, in French and interested in communicating with scientists and brewers trained in science. Arnold first wrote Origin and History in German, then it was translated into early 20th century English.

And, for obvious reasons, you won’t find anything about modern brewing practices or beer’s role in contemporary society. Arnold makes reference to the temperance movement that would soon bring Prohibition to the United States, but obviously you won’t find him comparing the roles of spirits, wine and beer in American society with that after Prohibition was repealed.

You’ll have to connect the dots. If Miller is right, a growing number of beer enthusiasts are inclined to do that.


Weekly Therapy: Poor Richard’s Ale

What would Ben Franklin have drunk?

Poor Richard's AlePerhaps something like Poor Richard’s Ale, the beer that officially goes on tap tomorrow to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Franklin’s birth (Jan. 17). OK, some of the 100 or so breweries across the country that brewed this special beer already have it on at others the beer isn’t quite ready to serve, but the Tuesday is the day to raise a glass to Ben.

So before you ask, here are a few answers.

Where can I find the beer?

The Brewers Association has compiled a list.

Even brewing giants Anheuser-Busch is involved. Its St. Louis Brewery will offer Poor Richard’s Ale to guests who visit its Tour Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A special toast led by a Benjamin Franklin historical role performer and A-B brewmaster will be conducted at 1:30 p.m. to honor the real Benjamin Franklin.

How was the recipe chosen chosen?

The Brewers Association held a competition to identify a suitable recipe. A panel of award-winning brewers and others with an eye toward history chose the recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale.

The winning recipe came from Tony Simmons of Pagosa Springs, Colo., who is in the process of opening a microbrewery. Simmons carefully researched his recipe, citing more than a dozen publications when presenting his entry. He wrote:

“Ben Franklin’s favorite type of beer could have been similar in gravity and strength to the modern version of an Old Ale (1.060 to 1.086). Franklin’s own writings refer to, ‘the type of strong, harvest-time ale, or October ale.’ Yet, his regular drink couldn’t have been excessively strong because he was known to have intellectual discussions in Taverns while, ‘lifting a few pints of ale,’ and Franklin felt (along with many of the time) that ale was a healthful tonic if consumed in moderation. In researching the era, I believe that due to the high cost of imported hops and the documented hop shortages in Colonial America, the hopping rates would have been appreciably less than that of Old Ale and more comparable to a Strong Scotch Ale.”

Bill Brand, who writes for the Oakland Tribune and maintains a Beer Blog, was one of the judges and described the decision process, concluding:

“John Harris loved number two (the eventual winner) and eventually he brought the rest of the panel around. He blew away my phenol argument. This was Colonial Philadelphia, he said. Beer was made quickly, placed in wood casks and served in a tavern without benefit of refrigeration. An off-note or two was to be expected, he said. The problem with number three was it was too perfect; it was an excellent, very drinkable beer. Could it have been produced in Franklin’s day? That argument carried the day.”

What makes the beer different?

For one thing, molasses and corn. As Simmons noted, “Modern appreciation for the characteristic molasses flavor is limited at best.” However both were common in ale during colonial times and each would have helped to reduce the colonists’ dependence on imported British ingredients.

Will every batch taste the same?

You already knew the answer was no, but one brewery had a particular problem following the recipe. The Salt Lake City Tribune reported:

All of them except one will follow a recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale that emulates a beer the forefathers might have enjoyed after a heated democratic debate.

The exception – you guessed it – is Utah, where not even American history can trump the 3.2 beer law.

“The rest of the country is going back to colonial times, but we’re going back to Prohibition,” joked Matt Beamer, head brewer at Park City’s Wasatch Brew Pub, the only Utah brewery participating in the anniversary celebration.

Beamer said he would love to join his national brewing colleagues and make the original ale, which contains 6.6 percent alcohol. But since Utah liquor laws prevent that, “I’ve just decided to have fun with it,” he said.

The best part is that this beer will be enjoyed on draft in pubs and taverns, where people still gather to talk – about beer, the football playoffs, maybe even revolution – just as Ben Franklin and his friends did nearly 300 years ago.