January 2013

A Story Without Heroes

Last year, Kihm Winship posted a lengthy article about malt liquor on the Faithful Readers blog. If you’re a fan of brewing history, it’s worth reading.

Winship notes that the beverage’s early years were surprisingly innocent. After the Repeal several small breweries, most of them in the Midwest, offered an extra-strength brew they called “malt liquor” and advertised it as the beverage of sophisticates.

Then came the Sixties. The industry was consolidating, and the national brands were crowding out local breweries. The National Brewing Company fought back by launching Colt 45. Its logo, a bucking horse, sent the unmistakable message that it could get you blasted. Somehow, it passed muster with the BATF.

At the time, brewery executives discovered that African Americans drank more malt liquor than their white counterparts. And so the brewing industry’s version of blaxploitation was underway. By the 1980s, any notion of subtlety had gone out the window. Malt liquor ads blatantly appealed to men’s sexual fantasies.

Inevitably, the marketing campaigns created a backlash. The U.S. Surgeon General publicly blasted a new malt liquor called Powermaster, and the descendants of the Indian chief filed suit against the makers of Crazy Horse. Members of the prevention community called for a limit on the alcoholic strength of malt beverages.

Still, Winship thinks that critics exaggerated the evils of malt liquor. He observes that fortified wine, not 40-ouncers, is the number-one beverage choice of problem drinkers; and that urban blacks don’t drink any more abusively than their white suburban counterparts.

In the end, Winship calls malt liquor “a story without heroes”:

Malt liquor is a beer style that requires human engineering to override limits placed by nature. In place of flavor, sociability and a cultural experience, you have a quick ride to intoxication that seems to bring out the worst in everyone, even in the people who object to it. Greed, despair and destruction on one side–lies, bombast and posturing on the other.

Beer…By the Numbers

  • Cases of beer Americans will drink on Super Bowl Sunday: 50 million.
  • Cost of all that beer: $1.8 billion.
  • Trips to the bathroom necessitated by drinking all that beer: 1.4 billion.
  • Breweries in Denmark (population 5.6 million): 132.
  • Brewery openings in Denmark in 2012: 11.
  • Growth of China’s beer market from 2006 to 2011: 29 percent (just over 5 percent per year).
  • Estimated annual growth of India’s beer market: 15 percent.
  • U.S. beer sales in 2011: $98 billion.
  • Increase over 2010: 2 percent.
  • U.S. retail establishments that sell beer: 547,000.
  • Beer distributors in the U.S.: 3,300.
  • Alabama counties where beer can’t be sold: 1 (out of 67: Clay County).
  • Alabama’s beer tax: $1.05 (second highest in the nation).
  • Kentucky counties where beer can’t be sold: 39 (out of 120).
  • Kentucky’s beer tax: 8 cents per gallon (tied with 3 other states for 4th lowest).
  • Grab a Flagon and Sing

    The Poxy Boggards sing “I Love You Beer” at the at the 49th annual Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, California.

    The Friday Mash (Robbie Burns Edition)

    Today is the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns. It is the traditional day to honor him with a Burns supper, which typically includes haggis, Scotch whisky, and the recitation of Burns’ poetry, and closes with a chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

    And now…The Mash!

    We begin in Rosemont, Illinois, where America’s fourth Hofbrauhaus had a soft opening in the city’s new entertainment district. The other HB locations are Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Newport, Kentucky.

    The Canadian humor magazine Bite has created a zodiac-like infographic, “What Your Beer Style Says About You.” (Hat tip: Jay Brooks.)

    Two cheers for the three-tier system. According to the New America Foundation’s Barry Lynn, distributors are protecting craft beer from the dominance of the nation’s brewing duopoly–at least for now.

    Why is beer more likely to go skunky in clear bottles? It’s because light reacts with hop alpha acids to produce a compound similar to one found in a skunk’s defense spray.

    On Tuesday Harpoon Brewing, the nation’s eighth-largest craft brewer, will open a $3.5 million beer hall in Boston. It’s located just blocks from Boston Beer Company’s Jamaica Plain facility.

    If you haven’t been able to get limited-release beers, Today.com’s Jim Galligan offers tips from the pros. For starters, you should cultivate a relationship with a good beer store in your area.

    Finally, Matt Austin, a grad student at Cardiff University, found some interesting parallels between the way Vikings drank in mead halls and the way today’s British college athletes drink.

    Funniest Beer Description Ever?

    A Stan Hiernymous blog post contained one of the funniest beer descriptions we’ve seen. John Mallett, the production manager at Bell’s Beer, observed that craft beer drinkers’ tastes have evolved so much that aromas once considered offensive have become desirable. Case in point, Bell’s Hopslam:

    “I’m going to have a beer that we make 4,000 barrels of, one time a year. It flies off the shelf at damn near $20 a six-pack, and you know what it smells like? It smells like your cat ate your weed and then pissed in the Christmas tree.”

    Try to top that.

    100 Best Beer Bars

    Already? Draft magazine is out with its annual list of America’s 100 best beer bars. Seventeen establishments are new to this year’s list. Four of the newcomers are in San Diego County, which continues to solidify its position in the top tier of American beer cities; and three cities with very different beer cultures–Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles–each have two establishments making their first appearance in the Top 100.

    “I’m Tom Dibblee and I’m a Bud Light Lime Drinker”

    Tom Dibblee, of the LA Review of Books, has a confession to make. He enjoys Bud Light Lime because “it allows me to shed the burden of sophistication, and it restores beer to what it once was, when I was young–a tart nectar that makes me happy.”

    Dibblee makes his admission as part of his amusing review of Bitter Brew, William Knoedelseder’s account of the rise and fall of Anheuser-Busch. Knoedelseder mentions BLL just once in his book, but the beer is central to Dibble’s review.

    August Busch IV was a disaster as CEO, and was shown the door by InBev after it acquired A-B. By February 2010, he was “holed up in his mansion, grievously addicted to drugs, gripped by paranoia, beset by hallucinations, and armed with hundreds of high-powered weapons, including several .50-caliber machine guns.” But before falling into the abyss, August IV suggested that the company branch out into novelty beverages. All but one flopped: Bud Light Lime, which, in 2008, led to Anheuser-Busch’s best summer sales in years.

    Choose the Right Glass

    It’s Saturday, and we know you’re going to have some beer today. Here’s a gentle reminder from the Brewers Association about how your choice of glassware can make that beer even more satisfying:

    Choose the Right Glass from Brewers Association on Vimeo.

    The Friday Mash (Aloha Edition)

    On this day in 1778, Captain James Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii is one of only four states that were independent countries before joining the Union. The others are California, Texas, and Vermont, which was a republic between 1777 and 1791.

    And now…The Mash!

    We begin in Denver where, for the third straight year, Governor John Hickenlooper mentioned beer in his State of the State address. Before entering politics, Hickenlooper owned the Wynkoop Brewing Company.

    If you’re in the mood to waste some time, check out SuperBowl-Commercials.org (yes, that’s a real site) and start with a few memorable beer commercials, including one featuring Budweiser’s talking frogs.

    The Standard Reference Measurement assigns a number between 1 (lightest) and 40 (darkest) to describe the color of beer. Jay Brooks has posted an SRM chart and other color-related links on his Brookston Beer Bulletin.

    The “Big D”–Drewrys beer–might be returning to Indiana. Chicago entrepreneur Frank Manzo has acquired the Drewrys name and is lining up capital for his brewing venture.

    Sprecher Brewing Company, which is famous for its root beer, is test-marketing an alcoholic version called Hard Root Beer. It has bourbon and oak flavors, and weighs in at 5% ABV.

    Some experts worry that cheap beer is a health problem, and that U.S. beer prices are about to drop because of consolidation and vertical integration in the brewing industry.

    Finally, congratulations are in order to Fred Bueltmann, a managing partner at New Holland Brewing Company in Michigan. His book, Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy, will be published this spring.

    Most Influential Beers of All Time

    A website called FirstWeFeast.com recently convened a panel to choose the 20 “most influential” beers of all time.” It didn’t take long for Martyn Cornell, The Zythophile, to file a dissenting opinion.

    Never one to mince words, Cornell called the selections “a totally crap list, with far, far more misses than hits.” The hits include Gablinger’s Diet Beer, which inspired the “lite” beers that dominate America’s beer scene; Pilsner Urquell; and Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Heading the list of notable misses are Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye, Allagash White, and Sam Adams Utopias.

    Cornell goes on to list his 20 Most Influential list. Topping the list is Spaten Dunkel because brewmaster Gabriel Sedlmayr’s lagering techniques, and the yeast he shared with other European breweries, powered the lager revolution the swept the world. Pilsner Urquell is second, followed by Hodgson’s East India Pale Ale, which inspired Bass Pale Ale. Cornell gives the number-four spot to Sir Humphrey Parsons, of the Red Lion Brewery in London, for his porter that everybody else copied. Rounding out the top five is Barclay Perkins Russian Imperial Stout, the first brewery known to have made this style.

    You get the idea. Cornell is a beer historian, and to him “influential” has a specific meaning: the size of the effect it had on subsequent beer history. By that criterion, Budweiser earns a spot in his top ten: “It pioneered national beer distribution around the US, and it set the standard for what American beer was expected to be.” That’s influential.

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