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.

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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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The Friday Mash (Pluto Edition)

Eighty-five years ago today, Pluto was officially named. Upon its discovery, Pluto was recognized as the solar system’s ninth planet. However, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union’s formal definition of “planet,” resulted in Pluto’s demotion to dwarf-planet status.

And now….The Mash!

We begin in Wisconsin, where the fifth annual Madison Beer Week kicks off today. Co-founder Jeffrey Glazer talks about the growth of Beer Week and how beer culture has changed in Madison.

If you’re on the Paleo Diet, grain-based beer is off the menu. Scientists say it shouldn’t be. Our ancestors were creative enough to turn both grain and fruit into alcoholic beverages.

Nicolette Wenzell of the Palm Springs Historical Society takes us back to the 1950s, when the El Mirador Hotel hosted a weekly Bavarian Night. The event became so popular that local stores stocked lederhosen and felt hats.

Anti-alcohol groups are criticizing Ben & Jerry’s for getting into the beer business. The ice-cream maker is collaborating with New Belgium Brewing Company to make Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, to be released this fall.

Paste magazine assembled a panel of experts to rank 39 American wheat beers. The overall winner was Allagash White.

Notable NBA draft bust Darko Milicic has embarked on a new career in the world of kickboxing. He’s also perfected the art of chugging a beer with no hands.

Finally, the owners of Scottish brewery Brewdog have big plans. They hope to expand their brewery, and add a distillery and a hotel to the operation. Also on the drawing board: opening 15 to 20 Brewdog bars across the U.K.

Vermont Was Once a Dry State

Nowadays, Vermont is a craft beer mecca, a state where one can buy growlers of local micro products in gas stations. However, The Green Mountain State was dry for much of its history. A year after Maine passed a law barring the sale of alcohol, Vermont followed suit in 1852 and kept the ban in place 50 years. Less than two decades later, the 18th Amendment imposed prohibition nationwide.

Vermont’s original prohibition law has its roots in a temperance movement that began in New England in the 1820s. There was strong opposition to the law—it passed the legislature passed by just one vote—and enforcement was inconsistent. The law also contained a very large loophole. Alcohol used for medicinal purposes was still legal, and the manufacturers of patent medicines put plenty of alcohol in their products. Whether they made anyone healthier is debatable.

One of the last vestiges of prohibition ended in 1988, when state lawmakers repealed the ban on buying and consuming alcohol at the location where it is made. That enabled Greg Noonan to open the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington, the first of the state’s 40 craft breweries.

The Friday Mash (Howl Edition)

Sixty years ago today, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it would defend Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem, Howl, against obscenity charges. Two years later, a California Superior Court judge ruled that the poem was of “redeeming social importance” and thus not obscene.

And now.…The Mash!

We begin in Rhode Island, where Intuit, the tax software company, teamed up with a local brewery to brew a beer for accountants only. It’s called CPA IPA, and it’s just in time for tax season.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale, lovingly described by the author in The Trumpet Major, is set to return after a 16-year absence. Interbrew, an Italian company, is looking for a suitable contract brewer, and has sent a preview edition to beer writers.

It’s been called “the women’s libation movement.” Women around the world are challenging beer-related stereotypes, especially sexist brand names and ads that feature young, half-naked women.

British researchers have found that while most people’s alcohol consumption peaks during young adulthood, frequent drinking becomes more common in middle and old age, especially among men.

Five thousand years ago, Tel Aviv was a party town for expats. At a downtown construction site, archaeologists found fragments of large ceramic basins used by Egyptians to brew beer.

Griffin Claw Brewing Company will release a batch of Beechwood Aged Pumpkin Peach Ale. It’s a pointed retort to Budweiser’s “Brewed the Hard Way” Super Bowl ad poking fun at craft beer.

Finally, The “Bottle Boys,” who play music with beer bottles, have joined forces with the Budapest Art Orchestra to play a medley of epic movie themes including those from Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones.

The Friday Mash (San Diego State U. Edition)

On this day in 1897, San Diego State University was established. The 35,000 students at SDSU have an amazing selection of craft beer to choose from. At the end of 2014, the county had nearly 100 breweries and brewpubs.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Houston, where the Texas Beer Refinery has opened for business. Its fermenting tanks and brew kettles have been made to look like refinery towers from a distance.

Goose Island Brewing Company’s 20-year-old brewery on Chicago’s Near West Side will start offering tours and tastings later this month. The tasting room will also offer growler fills.

Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company has brewed a beer to benefit James Madison’s Montpelier. Ambition Ale, “a beer with checks and balances,” will be available in central Virginia this summer.

Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen, Oregon’s largest-selling craft beer, is now co-branded with Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers. Both the brewery and the team are Portland institutions.

Goldcrest 51 beer was popular in Memphis until the Tennessee Brewing Company closed its doors in 1955. Beer writer Kenn Flemmons plans to revive the beer this spring, using the original recipe.

A federal appeals court has ruled that Flying Dog Ales can sue Michigan for damages over its refusal to approve the label for Raging Bitch IPA. The state’s decision was overturned in court.

Finally, a new beer from Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company honors cherry farmer Nancy Bunting, who supplied it with thousands of pounds of cherries. Allagash has donated part of the proceeds from “Nancy” to a charity that helps farmworkers with health problems.

What Does 170-Year-Old Beer Taste Like?

Five years ago, divers off the coast of Finland found beer and Champagne preserved underwater inside a 170-year-old shipwreck. Being naturally curious, scientists wanted to know what the beer tasted like. When they sampled the beer, they found it foul-smelling and sour—so sour they couldn’t tell how it was originally meant to taste.

So the scientists subjected the beer to chemical analysis using the latest technology. The machinery cut through their the beers’ awful taste and revealed their molecular structure.

A56 and C49 turned out to clearly be different beers. C49 was much hoppier and thus more bitter. An analysis of yeast-derived flavor compounds—basically the stuff that gives beers its fruity and floral notes—also revealed rose and sweet apples flavors that were high in A56. C49 had a higher concentration of flavor compounds for green tea.

Some flavor differences may be because of how beer was brewed differently in the 19th century. For example, A56 contained much more of a compound called furfural, which is possibly the result of mash being heated over an open fire. Both beers, even when they were fresh, were also more sour than your average modern brew. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that brewers learned how to keep acid-producing bacteria out of beer. Until that breakthrough, pretty much all beer, including A56 and C49, was sour beer.

It’s only a matter of time—far less than another 170 years—before some brewery tries to reverse-engineer these beers and put them on the market.

Why Iceland Banned Beer Until 1989

Twenty-five years ago, Iceland’s parliament voted to legalize beer—which had been prohibited since 1915. It was strange enough that a European country still imposed prohibition so late in the century, but what made it even stranger was that wine and liquor had been legal for decades.

An article posted last Saturday in the BBC News Magazine explained what happened:

When full prohibition became law 100 years ago, alcohol in general was frowned upon, and beer was especially out of favour–for political reasons. Iceland was engaged in a struggle for independence from Denmark at the time, and Icelanders strongly associated beer with Danish lifestyles.

Simply put, beer was unpatriotic—just as drinking tea was in America in the years leading up to the Revolution.

At first, Icelandic prohibition applied to all alcoholic beverages. In 1921, however, parliament bowed Spain’s demand that it allow wine imports or else face a boycott of its number-one export, salted cod. In 1933, the same year the U.S. repealed Prohibition, Iceland re-legalized alcoholic beverages—with one exception: beer stronger than 2.25 percent alcohol. Since beer was cheaper than stronger beverages, lawmakers were afraid that legalizing it would result in a substantial increase in alcohol abuse.

Support for the beer ban started to wane in the 1970s, when Icelanders spent “city breaks” in other European cities and discovered pub culture. In 1979, parliament allowed Icelanders who’d visited foreign countries to bring beer home. Public opinion swung in favor of legalizing beer, and lawmakers saw legal beer as a source of tax revenue.

Beer prohibition ended on March 1, 1989. Every March 1, Icelanders celebrate Bjordagur, or Beer Day.

Hot Beer for a Cold Evening?

As another Siberian Express rolls across North America, an ice-cold beer might be farthest from your mind. It was also the farthest thing from 18th-century Americans’ minds. In an article in The Atlantic, Jacob Grier reminds us that in those days, heated ale drinks were staples of home and tavern life. They provided warmth on chilly nights and nutrition when meals were scarce.

There are numerous reasons for the popularity of heated ales back then. Lager beer hadn’t made its way across the Atlantic. Ales fermented quickly without refrigeration, and they offered a sweetness that could be enjoyed at higher temperatures. Ale was a source of nutrition, and often contained food items such as berries or milk. And people actually believed that the human stomach acted like a cauldron.

Now that breweries are reviving beers from long ago, Grier wonders whether someone will take a big risk and roll out a hot ale. Perhaps the harsh winter we’ve endured has provided the motivation.

When Brewpubs Were a Novelty

In the current All About Beer, historian Tom Aciatelli takes us back to 1986, when recently-laid-off geologist John Hickenlooper drove to Berkeley, California, to visit his brother. The two paid a visit to Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse, and Hickenlooper realized what his next career would be.

Two years later, Hickenlooper and his partners opened Wynkoop Brewing Company in what was then a gritty section of Denver.

A quarter century ago, brewpubs outnumbered microbreweries by a substantial margin (the opposite is true today). Brewpub owners faced serious challenges, including finding the money to get started, overcoming Depression-era liquor laws, and persuading customers to pay more for a product they were not familiar with.

Hickenlooper was a notable success in his industry. He started or invested in 11 brewpubs. Later, he embarked on yet another career, that of a public official. He got elected mayor of Denver, and is now governor of Colorado. When he first took office in 2011, he made sure the craft beer flowed at his inaugural party.

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