The Heyday of Genny Cream Ale

Fifty years ago, there were Americans who drank ale, and there were breweries that catered to their thirst for that style. For a while, the top-selling ale in the U.S. was Genesee Cream Ale. Rochester New York-based Genessee Brewery introduced it in 1960 as a middle ground between two other “Genny” products: Dickens Dry Ale, which proved too dry for most beer drinkers; and the more-robust 12 Horse Ale.

At one point, Genny Cream Ale accounted for one-third of the brewery’s production, about 1 million barrels in all–quite an accomplishment for a brand distributed almost exclusively in the Northeast. Before it faded, Genny Cream Ale set the standard for cream ale, which is one of the few beer styles that originated in the United States.

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Comic Book History of Beer

Comic books have become mainstream, even for those over 21. That trend inspired three men—illustrator Aaron McConnell, writer Jonathan Hennessey, and professional brewer Mike Smith—to write The Comic Book Story of Beer.

This 173-page book covers 9,000 years from the beginnings of agriculture—necessitated by brewing, they maintain—and explains the economic, cultural, and scientific facets of beer. There are factoids you might not know, such as covered beer steins were invented during the Black Death, when piles of bodies on the streets attracted flies, or that the Vienna Lager style of beer was born out of a 19th-century act of industrial espionage.

Although the authors want to educate their readers, they also want the learning to be fun. They use little Lego men breaking things apart to explain how enzymes break up sugar molecules and little “yeast-bots” to depict fermentation, and their depiction of the malt-roasting process is based on a story by Dr. Seuss.

The Comic Book Story of Beer will be available next month.

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The Friday Mash (Social Security Edition)

Today is the 80th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the Social Security Act. More than 50 million Americans, most of whom are retirees, receive Social Security benefits. That number will grow as members of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age.

And now (can I see some ID, please?)….The Mash! 

We begin in North Korea, whose government is looking for foreign investors for a brewery in Wosnan. The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, wants to turn the port city into a tourist attraction.

Jim Koch, the CEO of Boston Beer Company, blames high U.S. corporate taxes for acquisitions that have left foreign firms in control of 90 percent of America’s brewing industry.

The oldest known receipt for beer is a more than 4,000-year-old Sumerian tablet in which a scribe acknowledges receiving approximately 4-1/2 liters of Alulu the brewer’s “best beer.”

At New Belgium Brewing Company, Kim Jordan is turning over her CEO duties to another woman, Christine Perich, the chief operating officer. Jordan will head the brewery’s board of directors.

The Los Angeles Times’s John Verive decodes seven words—clean, dry, phenolic, creamy, hot, soft, and light—that are often found in reviews of craft beers.

White Bull beer, a symbol of South Sudan’s independence, is on the endangered list. Armed conflict has left White Bull’s brewer short on foreign currency it needs to import fuel and materials.

Finally, “Biscuit,” who works at the Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis sneaked “Tom Brady Sux” next to the “born-on” date on 20,000 cans of Wee Mac Scottish Ale. His future work will have to be approved by his higher-ups.

“Pop the Cap” Turns 10

Ten years ago today, North Carolina’s then-governor Mike Easley signed House Bill 392, which did away with the state’s 6-percent ABV limit on the alcoholic content of beers. The antiquated ABV cap was repealed because of a grass-roots lobbying effort called “Pop the Cap”.

Since 2005, the number of breweries in North Carolina has almost quadrupled. The craft brewing industry has an estimated $3.8 billion impact on the state’s economy, and employs more than 26,000 workers. Beer drinkers can also enjoy doppelbocks, double IPAs, and imperial stouts which formerly couldn’t be sold because of the cap.

A Short History of the Beer Can

In the past few years, hundreds of craft breweries began canning their beer. It wasn’t an easy decision because canned beer was associated with national-brand lagers, and canning equipment was an expensive investment for small breweries.

Even though canned foods date back to 1813, it took more another century, and then some, for a brewery to successfully put its beer in cans. In 1933, the American Can Company invented a can that was strong enough to hold a pressurized carbonated liquid lined with a coating that prevented metallic tastes from flavoring the beer. Two years later, the Kreuger Brewing Company test-marketed two of its beers in Richmond, Virginia.

Kreuger’s cans were a success, but there was plenty of room for improvement. The early cans were made of heavy steel coated with a thin layer of tin to prevent rusting. Those gave way to aluminum cans, first used by the Hawaii Brewing Company in 1958. Nowadays, cans are made out of an aluminum alloy, which is even lighter weight and more resistant to rusting.

The beer can’s shape also changed over time. Early cans looked like cylinders with flat tops and bottoms. The next generation of cans had cone tops, which became popular with small breweries because they were easier to fill and could be sealed with the same crown caps as glass bottles. By the late 1950s, however, cone-top cans were replaced by cylindrical cans with flat tops and bottoms.

Opening canned beer has gotten easier as well. The original flat-top cans required a device called a “church key”, which punctured a triangular hole at the top of the can, out of which a person could drink, and a second, smaller hole on the opposite side to let air into the can and allow the beer to flow. In 1962, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company released a can with a “zip top,” a small flat tab riveted to the center of the can’s top that could be pulled back to puncture the can. Three years later, a pull ring, similar to those used in cans of pet food, replaced the flat tab. However, the discarded tabs created an environmental problem. In 1975, Reynolds Metals Company solved it with a “stay-tab,” which is now standard technology in beer and pop cans worldwide.

Canned craft beer has several advantages: it can be hermetically sealed; it cools faster than bottled beer; and it’s friendlier to outdoor activities. As for the belief that canned craft beer tastes of metal, that has long since been debunked.

The Friday Mash (Magic Kingdom Edition)

Sixty years ago today, Walt Disney unveiled his theme park, Disneyland, on national television. The “Magic Kingdom” has attracted more than 650 million guests—more than any other amusement park in the world—since it opened.

And now….The Mash! 

We begin in Asheville, North Carolina, where the sold-out Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference is taking place at the Four Points Hotel. Ludwig couldn’t attend, but he’ll be there in spirit.

21st Century Fox, which owns The Simpsons franchise, has licensed Duff beer. For the time being, Duff will only be available in Chile, where bootleg versions of the brand have been turning up on store shelves.

Lawmakers in a number of states passed beer-friendly legislation this year. Mike Pomeranz of Yahoo! Food explains what happened in Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and West Virginia.

Oh, the agony of defeat. Australia’s cricket team was so frustrated by its 169-run defeat at the hands of England in a Test match that it refused the host country’s offer of post-match beers.

Illustrator/animator Drew Christie has created a four-minute-long history lesson titled “The United States of Beer”, in which he offers a modest proposal: a cabinet-level Secretary of Beer.

Here’s another reason to book that trip to Honolulu. Maui Brewing Company will open a brewpub in Waikiki. It will be located in the Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber.

Finally, Kathy Flanigan and Chelsey Lewis of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel take you on a beer tour of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region. It includes plenty of history, and features a visit to “The Troll Capital of the World.”

Why Americans Are Fond of Bland Beer

Craft beer notwithstanding, national-brand lagers still dominate the American beer market. It’s an enigma that economist Ranjit Dighe decided to figure out. What he discovered is that Americans’ taste for bland beer might as “well run in their veins”: we’ve preferred bland beers for more than a century.

The world-wide temperance movement of the 19th century earns some of the blame. In some countries, like England, beer was promoted as a “temperance beverage,” which had a lower alcohol content than spirits and wine. But the same argument didn’t quite fly here. We didn’t just gravitate to beers, but also opted for beers with the lowest alcohol content.

In the century that followed, a number of events held back Americans’ appreciation of stronger beers. During Prohibition and after Repeal, people shied away from hoppier beers. Then came World War II. Grain rations and price controls made it impossible to brew stronger, more-flavorful beers. At the same time, GIs fighting overseas were treated to low-alcohol beer; and they brought their tastes back to the States. After that came the 1970s, which brought in an era of “less filling” light version of national-brand beers.

One might that argue we’ve never recovered. One of the biggest craft-beer trends this year is “Session IPAs,” with lower ABVs and less hop content.

The Friday Mash (Juneteenth Edition)

One hundred and fifty years ago today, slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally informed of their freedom–which actually had been granted more than two years earlier by the Emancipation Proclamation. The anniversary, known as “Juneteenth,” is officially celebrated in 42 states.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Mystic, Connecticut, where members of the StoneRidge retirement community are brewing their own beer. Why not? It’s educational, it’s fun, and it’s beer!

Massachusetts has strange liquor laws, one of which bans breweries from donating beer to charity events. Oddly, the ban—enacted by the legislature in 1997—doesn’t apply to wine donations.

“Sweet Baby Jesus” is DuClaw Brewing Company’s flagship beer. However, an Ohio grocery chain has pulled the beer from its shelves after customers complained about the name.

The New York State Brewers Association has created Statewide Pale Ale. The beer, made entirely with in-state ingredients, is projected to raise $20,000 for the association.

What is the link between Magna Carta and the English pint? According to Britain’s Communities Minister, the “London quarter” mentioned in the 800-year-old document is equivalent to two imperial pints.

There are hard-to-find beers, and there are truly rare beers, which make “Pappy Van Winkle seem as easy to find as a can of Coke.” Esquire magazine’s Aaron Goldfarb acquaints you with ten of them.

Finally, DNA meets IPA. Gianpaolo Rando, a European chemist who loves beer, wants to sequence the DNA more than 100 different beers in the hopes of producing an app that will match beers to drinkers’ own hereditary makeup.

How the Civil War Affected Beer

The American Civil War, like many wars throughout history, proved to be longer than anyone imagined.

By mid-1862, the war had become one of attrition, and the United States needed money to win it. One way of raising it was to impose the first-ever tax on beer. The tax was $1 a barrel, or about $23.40 in today’s money. In 1865, the last year of the war, the U.S. took in more than $3.7 million ($865 million in today’s money). The war ended, but the beer tax lived on—except during Prohibition—and, since 1991, has stood at $18 a barrel.

The beer tax led to the formation of the United States Brewers’ Association, a powerful trade group whose number-one priority was to keep the tax as low as possible. The USBA’s influence diminished after the war, and disappeared altogether in 1986. However, it provided the template for the modern-day Brewers Association, the craft brewers’ trade association.

The Civil War came on the heels of heavy German immigration to the U.S. The Germans brought with them a love of lager beer; and they started dozens of breweries, especially in the Midwest. During the war, many German and German-American men joined the Union Army, where they introduced their fellow soldiers to the joy of beer-drinking. Increased demand for beer, combined with greater automation in the industry, led to the a wave of brewery openings after the war. In 1873, the U.S. brewery count peaked at 4,131.

How Craft Beer Became “Craft”

Q. Who invented the term “craft beer”?

A. According to beer writer Stan Hieronymus, Vince Cottone, a beer columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, first used the phrases “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery,” and “craft brewing” in the manner they’re thought of today. Cottone’s readers knew what he was talking about, but it took a while for the phrase “craft beer” to establish itself.

Charlie Papazian, the founder of the Association of Brewers, first defined “craft brewery” in New Brewer magazine in 1987. Since then, the craft-brewing industry has established three criteria: small (annual production of 6 million barrels or less; independent (less than 25 percent owned by a non-craft brewer; and traditional (flavored malt beverages aren’t “beers”).

That definition didn’t exactly settle the matter. Some in the industry point out that large companies employ craftspeople to brew their beer, and that well-known craft brands are becoming increasingly industrialized. Others find the term “craft beer” rather meaningless.

There’s the even bigger debate over what “craft beer” is. The industry doesn’t define it, but recently pointed the accusing finger at several beers—Blue Moon and Shock Top in particular—as craft beer impostors.

Some enthusiasts have even higher standards. Jace Marti, the brewmaster at August Schell Brewing Company, told Hieronymus that an attendee at last year’s World Beer Cup refused to taste his beers, which had won two medals. The attendee told him, “You shouldn’t be here. It’s adjunct beer”.

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