Fall Is Here


from theweeklybrew

For many people summer is already over now that labor day has come and gone. Fall weather is already settling in here in the valley, and the school year starts tomorrow. This also means that it is now football season.

Football season is the time of year for consuming mass amounts of light lager. So in honor of summers fall, and in honor of football. I feel the need to do some posts dedicated to the whipping boy of beers. First off, a little history.

The Beer That Made Brewing Big Business

Tracking beer prior to 1810 is difficult. We know the names of some brewers, but no statistics such as consumption (consumption numbers are inaccurate anyway) nor any stats on production. Many historians point to this as a sign that beer just simply wasn’t as popular to early Americans as people want to believe. We do know that many spirits were cheap, and easily available, and we also know that British ales were the typical beer produced.

The first year we can track production is 1810, and the total barrelage produced was a measly 180,ooo barrels. Breweries were much more local affairs due to both technology, and demand. People often blame shipping for ruining beer and preventing it’s transport during this time. The truth is that the British had been shipping beer across the world for a long time. More likely distribution costs and slow methods of transportation were to blame. Combine that with a lack of demand, and the only true way for a brewery to get big was in big cities.

The big change in American brewing came when German immigrants brought a thirst for lager to these shores. Immigrants from around Europe helped to boost the beer industry, but German lager was something different to Americans, and they quickly adopted it. A surplus of German brewers, and a higher demand for lager pushed lagers to the forefront, and British ales to the background. The fact that lager was so popular became important when the industrial revolution caused beer production to skyrocket. Even prior to artificial refrigeration brewers were looking for ways to boost production in order to expand their markets. Icehouses began springing up and brewers bought rail lines. Artificial refrigeration though made lager king because it could be brewed year around now. Combine that with early prohibitionists who embraced beer as a nutritious less intoxicating alternative to spirits and the explosion makes sense.

The creation of light lager though is what concerns us. In a time when lager was king, the brewers were looking for something new to brew. Being from Europe, the wealthier ones would spend time back home. It was through a trip home that we were introduced to Budweiser, and the light lager fad. Budweis was a region in Europe that made a pale lager brewed with Saaz hops. The beer was so pale and light, because of poorer soil conditions that the barley was grown in. Low quality barley made a unique beer. Brewers in the US tride to duplicate the lighter beer, but American barleys weren’t conducive to this. Brewers looked to adjuncts. At the time using corn or rice in beer was more expensive, and required some advanced brewing skills.

Beer produced through the new adjunct methods was pale, light, and Americans loved it. In fact at the time adjunct beers were considered higher quality. Many of these light lagers became flagship beers. With increased production capacity more resources were dedicated to the flagships which sold and less to the other lagers. Sorta similar to Widmer Wheat, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It was only natural that these flagship lager beers would grow to dominate the American landscape that was already dominated by lager. The rise of prohibition certified this when it began shutting down smaller breweries that still catered to their German clientele, or their customers from the British Isles.

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11 Responses to “Fall Is Here”

  1. Dr Wort says:

    Our America lagers became lighter do to grain shortages of WWI and WWII, but also due to the lack of 2 row barley crops even before this time. With the shortage of quality (2 row) grains more adjuncts were used to produce the beers. Prohibition didn’t help either.

    Corn and Rice were more plentiful that the quality brewing 2 row barley. Our 6 row barley didn’t make a great tasting beer, but when used in combination of corn or rice it made it the beer lighter and more palatable.

    American didn’t LOVE the light lagers right away. We were a nation of ALE drinkers up to about 1880’s. Lagers were introduced about 1840, but did not even gain equal appreciation till about the 1880-90. Post WWI, lager seemed to gain momentum in popularity and succeeded ales. So, Amercian’s took about 50+ years to be weened off the ales and accept the light lagers which then continued to get lighter.

  2. jrbox says:

    Another historic factor is [hard] apple cider.

    In his book ‘Botanty of Desire’, Michael Pollan, reports the history of apples in the USA [and 3 other plants].

    In frontier America most homesteads had apple orchards to produce not ‘Mom’s apple pie’, but, cheap, dependable, safe, easy to produce [hard] cider.

    The ‘logo’ of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was a hatchet striking the trunk of an apple tree.

  3. Jared says:

    I’m gonna have to give that book a read JR. I’ve been trying to get through some books on brewing in America, but each author seems to have a different view of what happened. Right now I’m on Ambitious Brew. Colorful, but deffinatly not history. 🙂

    As to the ale nation I’d have to dissagree Doc. Ale consumption didnt look anything like it does today. Ciders, wines, and spirits combined all had more market share then ales. While I agree that post WW1 was the big explosion for the big brewers the fact remains that adjuncts were in beer before then, and that adjunct wasn’t only due to grain issues. Adjuncts were as much to help problems such as chill haze and other issues as they were to match lighter beer styles from the old country. But neither was exclusive. Old world barley wasn’t always of great quality either btw. We tend in modern times to view the old world as a utopian place, but this was before the modern practices that helped preserve farmland.

    Many events in the industrial revolution conspired to increase the popularity of lighter beers. This was already a 600 word blogpost though and I wanted a somewhat short overview.

  4. Dr Wort says:

    I look at it this way. From a historical standpoint, between the Pilgrims arrival in 1492 to 1840 the common “BEER” drink was an ale. Of course, there was Cider and like too. German immigrants brought the LAGER in 1840 and (according to the numbers I’m finding) did not equal in popularity until 1880-90’s. That’s a drinking preference of ales for almost 400 years vs. Lager preference of 1890 – present. Remember lager drinkers still out number the ale drinkers in America. That’s 120 years. Wanna cheat and start from the Declaration of Independence? 1776 to 1890. That’s 120 years too.

    In regard to Ale consumption now compared to then and other beverages… You were originally just talking beer popularity, not the entire alcoholic beverage catalog. Beer alone… We drank ales, then made a 50 year conversion to lagers. Not much else to the basic concept. Leaving everything else out of the equation.

    Here’s something to chew on….. Most beers were barrel aged or stored for most of beer history. Meaning they all had some kind of oaky/woody flavor. Prior to modern brewing systems beer was made over and open fire. Meaning all beers had a smoky flavor…. Hmmmmm… Something to really tweak your mind….

  5. jrbox says:

    Jared /Doc,
    This is great stuff. Enriching. Mind expanding.

    I imagined for a moment that climate plays a factor.
    Expansion west beyond the NW territories and particularily beyond the 100th Meridian subjected the nations’ citizens to dry, semi-arid, arid climes. Crisp lager are more thirst quenching.

    That said, I have been in the States of the original colonies in the summer and they are fracking hot; hot, but, not arid.

    Lager domination over ale.
    Is it merely the work of admen?

    I was living in the UK [mid to late 90s] when Budweiser was making inroads; . I saw lads in public houses drink bottled Bud; abandoning traditional best bitter. Advertising is powerful.

  6. Dr Wort says:

    What do they call them in the UK…. lager louse or lager louts?

  7. jrbox says:

    ‘Lager louts’ is a term used for football match hooligans.

    The typical context would be a group of young, miscreant, fans who travel to Europe, swill cheap local lager, misbehave. Run rampant
    – dans les rues
    – in den Straßen
    – en las calles
    – per le strade
    btw, I used WordMonkey Translator

  8. Jared says:


    The smoked idea enters my mind alot when drinking history inspired beers that lack that smoke flavor. In fact that was on my mind prior to writing this post. Around the time of lager introduction to the states is also the time when smoked grains were begining to become a thing of the past.

    I’m not denying that American history has primarily been one of British ales. My arguement was that even though lager wasn’t the drink of America it had surpassed ale as the drink of America mostly through imigration. Also when discussing beers history I think other alcohol types should be considered. While consumption figures aren’t always acurate the popularity of other beverages compared to beer can give you a clue.

    Lager wasn’t the American drink prior to WWI, but it deffinatly was becoming, (if wasnt already) Americas beer prior to WWI. In fact WWI and it’s grain shortages contributed more to prohibition then they did to light lagers.

    The truth is with the history of a consumable good the factors that play a roll are infinite. Here’s an example. During the industrial revolution you have brewers shipping their beer farther, large industrial centers, large numbers of immigrants. Also income, availability, climate, traditions, and what goods the area produces will have big impacts to.

    The history of beer could be told a dozen different ways. I simply wanted to focus on mass produced lagers, and not from the modern they suck standpoint. If you notice I’m not trying to disparage either beer, and I don’t take sides in the debate. This is more of a how the light lager came to be without the smack talk 🙂

  9. dr wort says:

    but then again…. it’s just crappy American Commercial grade beer with cheap 6 row and adjuncts. It’s like discussing the origination Domino’s Pizza…. It’s all crap, but has a history. ;-}

    I need to get the Doctor back online, but the new doctors want more discussion time and planning. Sometimes a hate group efforts. I think I’m free to say we’ll have a Dr Fuzzybunny and Dr Guttersnipe. Should be fun if we can get it together…

  10. Jared says:

    Why do I get the feeling Guttersnipe is the blog commentor???

    I think in order to prove my point I’m gonna have to put my money where my mouth is and spend a couple weeks with some BMC instead of craft beers in the fridge.

  11. Dr Wort says:

    No…. this is Dr Wort… Dr Guttersnipe hasn’t quite gone public with his new moniker, but he does make blog comments.

    Ah yes….. I think 2 weeks of drinking Budmilloors would be quite the experiment! Experiment in boredom and lots of urinating. ;-}

    Did you know they did a chemical analysis of Budweiser once and found 128 compounds in the beer? Formaldehyde and arsenic were on the list…. Can’t remember the other 100+ pieces of crap….

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