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.
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.
Charlie Papazian, who writes about beer on Examiner.com, resurrected a 1982 article from Zymurgy magazine about early efforts to legalize brewpubs. It was written by Tom Burns, then at the Boulder Brewing Company. Burns moved to Michigan, where he fought to change that state’s restrictive laws. Unfortunately, Burns passed away before Michigan became the “The Great Beer State” with more than 150 microbreweries and brewpubs.
At the heart of Burns’ article is America’s three-tier distribution system. He conceded that legislators had reasons to ban “tied houses”—they didn’t want breweries to monopolize the retail market—but argued that the laws were so inflexible they made impossible for a small brewery to sell its beer at retail.
Burns, who was an attorney, urged the craft-brewing community to lobby state legislators. He argued for a narrow exception to the three-tier system—allowing breweries to sell their product, on premises, at retail–and offered some useful talking points. Brewpubs are local businesses, which hire local people. They counter the trend toward industry concentration. They help preserve traditional beer styles, and led to the creation of new ones. And they encourage the consumption of beer, a beverage of moderation.
The strategy worked. A generation later, brewpubs are legal in all 50 states.
On this day in 1972, Apollo 17, crewed by Eugene Cernan, Ron Evans, and Harrison Schmitt, returned to Earth. The craft’s re-entry marked the end of America’s manned lunar program. Cernan currently holds the distinction of being the last man to walk on the Moon.
And now….The Mash!
We begin in England, where the publishers of Original Gravity, a beer-centric magazine, have put Issue #1 online, free of charge. Enjoy!
The founders of Surly Brewing Company—Omar Ansari, a first-generation American; and Todd Haug, a death-metal guitarist—have done well, both for themselves and Minnesota’s beer drinkers.
Belgian scientists have found a way to keep beer from over-foaming. They applied a magnetic field to a malt infused with hops extract to disperse its anti-foaming agent into tinier particles.
Archaeologists have concluded that Iceland’s Vikings were more interested in drinking and feasting than in pillaging. Unfortunately for them, the Little Ice Age became the ultimate party-pooper.
A pair of brothers have invented something that makes it easier to enjoy a beer while taking a shower. Their Sip Caddy is a portable cup holder that can be attached to the wall.
Lance Curran, the co-founder of Chicago’s Arcade Brewery, loves comic books so much that he had comic strips drawn on the labels of its Festus Rotgut black wheat ale.
Finally, a woman attending a Philadelphia 76ers game wound up with a lapful of beer after an errant pass knocked the cup out of her hand. The way the Sixers are playing this season, she–and every other fan–needs some beer to deaden the pain.
What kind of beer did Americans brew 300 years ago? Ardent Craft Ales in Richmond, Virginia, has part of the answer. The brewery found a recipe for table beer in the Virginia Historical Society’s collection. Called “Jane’s Percimmon Beer,” it was brewed by the Randolphs, one of the state’s more prominent families.
In contrast to modern-day recipes, the formula for Jane’s Percimmon Beer consisted of just a few short sentences, with no detailed instructions or quantities. The brewery’s first trial run used about 17 pounds of persimmons, and yielded only three gallons. What did the beer taste like? “The light peach-colored concoction conjures touches of sweetness and tangerine-like notes from the persimmons and just a whisper of spiciness from the English Golding hops.” It was a table beer, which means it was relatively low—about 3 percent–in alcoholic content.
Ardent hopes to find more recipes in the society’s collection and create other beers from Virginia’s rich beer history, and to use those beers to encourage discussion of alcohol production and consumption throughout history.
You’ve seen this quote from the log of the Mayflower. We’ve even featured it in our “Worts of Wisdom”: “For we could not now take time for further search our victuals being pretty much spent especially our beer.”
Bob Skilnik, a Chicago-based beer historian, found more to the story while researching his book: Beer & Food: An American History. The Mayflower log said that the next day, the Pilgrims went back ashore and decided what we now call Plymouth was a suitable place: it was on high ground, much of the land had been cleared, and fresh water was available.
Skilnik explains that in 1935, sales of re-legalized beer were flagging. The brewing industry reacted by putting their beer in take-home containers—and by appealing to patriotism and nostalgia. The strategy worked, even at the expense of history.
It’s hard to believe that Widmer Brothers Brewery. started by Rob and Kurt Widmer in Portland, Oregon, has turned 30. To their surprise, they’ve become elder statesmen of the craft-brewing movement.
The brewery started out with two beers, inspired by their German heritage. Then something happened: the owner of local pub asked them for a third beer. Not wanting to disappoint a loyal customer, but facing capacity constraints, the brothers improvised. The result was the first American-style Hefeweizen. The beer not only looked and tasted different, but serving it in 23-ounce Pilsner glasses with a lemon on the side made it stand out.
Within 18 months, Widmer Hefeweizen became the brewery’s flagship beer.
That was a question Canadian author Jordan St. John asked–and tried to answer–in a column on Canoe.ca. A great deal of speculation is needed because, as he points out, there weren’t any beer critics back then.
That said, St. John recreated a beer from the 19th-century diaries of a Toronto brewer named William Helliwell. The Niagara College Teaching Brewery provided the equipment for his experiment, and the beer was served to students not far from where the brewery once stood.
So what did it taste like? Glad you asked:
It was monstrous! At 9.1% alcohol, the aroma and body were different depths of caramel, toffee, brown sugar and booze. There was some slight intimation of marmalade from the hops and the smoke did put in a brief appearance mid-palate. Mostly though, it had an enormous round body and was suitable for slow sipping.
Can you believe that Miller Lite turns 40 next year? The beer’s big birthday prompted author Tom Acitelli to tell the story of its origin. One stop on the journey was Munich, where George Weissman, the chairman of Philip Morris–which had recently bought the Miller Brewing Company—asked his waiter to recommend a non-filling beer. The waiter suggested a Diat pilsner.
If you know about German beer, Diat isn’t a low-calorie beer, it’s a low-sugar lager brewed for people with diabetes. Weissman liked the beer, and so did his dinner guest, Miller Brewing’s new president, John Murphy. They decided that America was ready for a light beer.
As it turned out, Miller’s assets included the recipe for a light beer, which originated at the Rheingold Brewery in New York. It was marketed as Gablinger’s Diet Beer, which flopped badly. Meister Brau, which acquired the recipe from Rheingold, marketed it as Meister Brau Lite. That, too, was a failure.
Murphy got the message: “diet beer” doesn’t sell. Instead, he advertised it as “Everything You Wanted in a Beer. And Less.” And, of course, “Great Taste. Less Filling.” He also recruited retired athletes to endorse the beer. Miller Lite became one of the biggest successes in brewing history, and every major brewery responded by rolling out its own light beer.
The “light” movement spread far beyond beer. The makers of everything from soft drinks to barbecue sauce offered lower-calorie versions of their products. Some, such as Coca-Cola, even used the word “diet” in the new products’ names.
As for Miller Lite, one of its recent commercials claims that the beer “changed everything” by making beer drinkers more svelte and thus more attractive. Maybe diet beer sells after all, at least if the dreaded D-word doesn’t appear in the ads.
On this day in 1931, the George Washington Bridge opened to traffic. This double-decker span over the Hudson River connects Manhattan with Fort Lee, New Jersey–a town now famous thanks to “Bridgegate.”
And now….The Mash!
We begin in Kansas City, where Boulevard Brewing Company will kick off its 25th anniversary celebration with the release of a special ale brewed in collaboration with Odell Brewing Company.
Chef David Chang made enemies thanks to a GQ magazine article declaring his hatred of “fancy beer”. Chang contends that craft beer has too intense a flavor to pair with his food.
Two hundred years ago, in London, eight women and children were killed by a flood of beer caused by an explosion at the Henry Meux & Company brewery. The disaster was ruled an “act of God.”
Why not turn your Halloween jack-o-lantern into a beer keg? All you need is a carving knife, a pumpkin carving kit, a Sharpie, a spigot, and beer—which need not be pumpkin beer.
William Bostwick, the Wall Street Journal’s beer critic, has written a book titled The Brewer’s Tale. In her review, Amy Stewart calls Bostwick “the very best sort of literary drinking buddy.”
In Papua New Guinea, which suffers 1.8 million cases of malaria every year, a brewery packs its beer in a box that contains eucalyptus, a natural mosquito repellent.
Finally, should the Great American Beer Festival give medals for best beer puns? CraftBeer.com’s Atalie Rhodes found these doozies on the list of medal winners. Our favorite is “Dubbel Entendre.”