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.

Draft Celebrator returns

Finding an old favorite on tap is as exciting as discovering a new beer, so it’s nice in winter to run across the draft version Ayinger Celebrator in a limited number of bars.

The Munich-area brewery only ships kegs of the doppelbock to the United States in winter. A few bars, like Falling Rock Tap House in Denver, stock up and keep it on tap all year. More often, it’s around only a short time and gone.

A few places to look for it: Seattle (Pike Pub), the greater Boston area (Hoseshoe Pub in Hudson, Ana Cara in Brookline, Moan & Dove in Amherst), Conneticut, Virginia (Capital Alehouse in Richmond), North Carolina (both Tyler’s), Georgia (Summits Wayside Tavern, Brick Store), Texas (Double Dave’s in San Antonio, the Ginger Man and Flying Saucer chains) and southern California (Heroes in Los Angeles, Forever Fondue in La Jolla).

A dilemma for beer drinkers and sellers

An excellent question from the Accidental Hedonist:

Is it socially acceptable simply to say “I drink alcoholic beverages” and leave it at that?

Or are qualifiers like this necessary? “What I’m trying to say is this: I drink alcoholic beverages. I do so for a variety of reasons, including taste and for the slight buzz it may bring. I endeavor to drink responsibly, and I never drive after drinking, nor drink if I’m driving.”

The article points out how American culture has changed in the last 50 years. Beer culture certainly has. In the 1950s the beer industry worked together to provide advertisements that said “Beer Belongs” and a message that beer was the beverage of moderation.

Now, a new move afoot would boost beer’s image, but there’s much work to be done, according to an article fromt he Wharton School of Penn University. Marketing professor Patricia Williams says breweries “have trended cruder and cruder” in an attempt to break through the clutter of TV ads and have dug a deep hole for themselves. “They have just descended into the depths as a product category. Unless that stops, no industry ad campaign will do it for them. I don’t see that happening.”

Victory Brewing seeks stories from customers

Victory Brewing in Downingtown, Pa., wants stories from loyal customers to help celebrate Victory’s 10th year of brewing.

“This contest, with each of its categories, details exactly how far Victory has gone in influencing the lives of our customers over the past ten years. With distance from the brewery, we’ll be able to find out how far around the world Victory beers have been enjoyed, while with the most memorable Victory experience, we’re sure to find people have enjoyed our beer in ways we’ve never imagined,” said co-founder Bill Covaleski.

Winning entries will receive one of two $200 Victory Gear shopping sprees.

Enter via e-mail (jakeb@victorybeer.com), or through traditional mail (mail to: Victory Brewing Company, 420 Acorn Lane, Downingtown, PA 19335, Attn: Jacob Burns). Entrants should include: their essay, name, mailing address, day-time phone number, and e-mail address. Winners will be announced “Victory 10-Years New Party” Feb. 17-18.

Weekly Therapy: Americans in Belgium

Look out, Belgium. You’re about to be a chapter in Sam Calagione’s next book.

Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, will be joined in March by four more of America’s most innovative brewers for a whirlwind tour of Belgium.

The goal of the trip is to introduce Belgian brewing luminaries to some of the “extreme beers” being made in the United States while allowing the American brewers to pay respect to Belgium’s brewing heritage. Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove, an Italian beer writer and well known Belgian beer enthusiast, will act as a guide for the tour and has built a busy itinerary.

Calagione and CilurzoWhat the fivesome of Calagione, Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing, Vinnie Cilurzo (on the left of Calagione) of Russian River Brewing, Adam Avery of Avery Brewing and Rob Todd of Allagash Brewing means by introduce is actually serving samples of their beers. Each will offer two beers at a variety events.

Wish you were a “fly on the wall” for this trip March 3-8? Calagione plans to write about it in Extreme Brewing, a book due out in the fall. Photojournalist Kevin Fleming, whom Reader’s Digest has called “America’s best observer,” will make the trip to document it for the book.

“We look forward to sharing our beers with them,” Calagione said. “We’re not saying our stuff is better than yours or anything like that. We want to recognize they are the mecca.”

All five brewers make beers that take inspiration from Belgium.

The idea for the trip came as Calagione was writing Extreme Brewing. This book will be much different than Brewing up a Business, his 2005 project that targets entrepreneurs more than beer lovers. That book has been very well received and is in its second printing.

When Rockport Publishers approached him about Extreme Brewing, Calagione said: “I struggled thinking of that (“extreme”) as the best terminology. The name has certain connotations – young, alternative, punky.

“That’s why I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the book explaining what I mean by extreme,” he said. “Extreme beers are brewed with more amounts of the traditional ingredients or non-traditional ingredients.”

Rockport wants to target an audience of homebrewers, and those ready to jump in. “It is definitely geared toward the novice,” Calagione said. He’ll offer plenty of recipes, including some that will produce very strong and very hoppy beers like his while using mostly malt extract as a base.

“I don’t want to overwhelm people with technical stuff,” he said. “Otherwise the beginner is going to think, ‘Wait a second. I’d have to be a rocket scientist to make a 10% beer.”

Arthur, Cilurzo, Avery and Tod will contribute recipes to the book.

“In writing this book I wanted to make sure I conveyed the idea that extreme brewing didn’t start with Dogfish Head or even the American craft brewing renaissance, but that it has been a part of the Belgian brewing tradition for centuries,” Calagione said.

“What I’m trying to do in this book is tell people that this philosophy has existed in the United States for 25 years and in Belgium a long time before that,” he said.

The diversity of the beers the American brewers are sending reflects the breadth of inspirations Belgians have offered. They are:

Dogfish Head: Festina Lente and Fort.
Port Brewing: Cuvee de Tomme and SPF 45 Saison.
Russian River Brewing: Damnation and Supplication.
Avery Brewing: The Beast and Salvation.
Allagash Brewing; Allagash Wit and Allagash Interlude.

Perhaps as well as being a fly on the wall you’d like to be a fly on the wall with a glass (or Belgian-style goblet).

Wrong! Sometimes smaller is better

Headline:Beer Is Proof of Stereotypical Sex Roles.

The point: “So finally, beer teaches us about competition: The microbrewers appeared on the scene to tell the ignorati (myself included, back then) that there were infinite possibilities.”

Maybe not quite right: “The big American breweries can do anything smaller brewers can do, and better. They don’t do what the smaller brewers do partly because they don’t want to. To produce niche flavors is costly, and you’ll notice that large brewers typically charge around three to five dollars per six-pack, while the micros start at $7.”

The large breweries can’t do everything smaller ones can better. Part of it is a numbers thing: There are scores of small brewers across the country thinking up something different every day. Many of the ideas will be terrible, but some will be terrific.

It isn’t necessarily great business but it is great art. And if you like flavorful beer you benefit.

Three generations in the brewery

Three generations of the Owens family have worked at the Anheuser-Busch plant in Los Angeles.

A lot has changed. For starters, the first had a 15-minute beer break every two hours, the second free beer after a shift, the third gets two cases a month – but must wait until he gets home to drink the beer.

“Today, everything’s automated and high-speed,” said Dennis Owens, the second generation employee. “Those kind of beer privileges would make it impossible for anyone to run the equipment safely.”

[From The LA Daily News.]

Czech brewery wins round in Bud battle

Czech brewery Budejovicky Budvar claimed victory in Finland over beer giant Anheuser-Busch in the latest round of their ongoing global trademark dispute.

Finland’s brewing association, however, said the ruling had no practical significance because foreign beers make up less than 1% of total consumption.

While sales in Finland may be small, that high court upheld a previous court decision that Budvar can use the Budejovicky Budvar trademark in the country is important for the Czech brewery. Anheuser-Busch has “Bud” and “Budweiser” trademark protection in 21 of 25 European Union nations – and as the American and Czech breweries continue to fight trademark battles (about 40 are open right now) Budejovicky needs all the precedents it can point to.

Sam Adams drinkers pick Brown Ale

The beer drinkers have spoken and Samuel Adams will brew a brown ale.

Samuel Adams Brown Ale joins the Samuel Adams Brewmaster’s Collection this month, and in February will be available in six-packs.

And all because consumers voted for it over Samuel Adams Bohemian Pilsner. Brown Ale received 6,649 votes in the Beer Lover’s Choice program and Bohemian Pilsner 5,109. Sam Adams offered drinkers samples at more than 400 tasting events during September and October, then they cast their votes.

Sam Adams Brown is brewed with a blend of two-row malts, as well as caramel, Munich and roasted Carafa malts. Brewers finished the beer with Spalt Spalter and English Goldings hops.

EU backs higher prices in Finland

Is this fair?

The European Union prolonged Finland’s right to curb the amount of beer travelers can bring from Russia, aiding costlier Finnish retailers, bolstering tax revenue and addressing worries about drunkenness.

Finland can limit beer carried by people arriving from non-EU countries including Russia to 16 liters until the end of 2007 under the European legislation.

The real reason to do this is that beer costs less in Russia.

[Via the Moscow Times]

Beer for the turkey

The Publican in Britain asked a variety of beer types what beer they’d serve with a Christmas turkey. We particularly like the reply from Ben McFarland (beer writer of the year):

At Christmas, you need a beer that copes with every potentially disastrous gastronomic eventuality. If the turkey ends up drier than a pensioner’s elbow, if the sprouts resemble charcoal and if you set fire to the pub using too much cheap brandy on the Christmas pudding, then a refreshing, thirst-quenching lager is the first thing your parched palate will be wanting in its Christmas stocking.

I suggest a dainty lager called Lapin Kulta. Brewed by female brewers in the upper reaches of Lapland, Lapin Kulta is Santa’s local beer and is perfect for drinking after a hard day harrying elves, gift-wrapping and putting up with spoilt little eight-year-olds. It’s also a festive alternative to the chewy charms of the full-bodied Christmas ales so often sipped at this time of the year.

What beer do you suppose he’d suggest drinking along with the movie Bad Santa?

How ‘Slate’ thinks about beer

During 2005, the online publicaton Slate covered the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and the future of the Supreme Court, but the most popular stories were, for the most part, about dogs, beer, celebrities, and naked ladies.

No. 9 on the list: Welcome to Miller Time, The great American beer crisis.

Always interesting to see how those not as involved with specialty beer as we are think about beer.

A-B, Goose Island in talks

The Chicago Tribune (free registration required) reports that Goose Island Beer Co. and brewing giant Anheuser-Busch are “in talks.”

Goose Island president and founder John Hall confirmed as much, but said discussions have been limited to “distribution issues.” He declined to comment further on the nature of the talks.

Adding a small brewer would answer demands from A-B wholesalers to add new products.

“Its wholesalers are clamoring for high-margin, growth brands,” said Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, told the Tribune. “Anheuser has promised to deliver them, but they can’t just create them.”

A-B reportedly is talking with other microbreweries about distribution deals or taking a stake in the companies, including Old Dominion in Virginia.