Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Research Continues

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I hope this is the last of my filler posts for a bit. When school starts back up for Rachel this next week I’ll have more time to write. Also with the clients back in their programs they’re calmer and therefore I can write during brief breaks at work. Still wont have internet though.


I’ve been doing some more research on the origins of the IPA, and the more I research the more things I begin to understand about export beer.

Often when we discuss beer we view it through a lens tainted by our modern beer. We either assume that people in the 1800’s could, and did, produce consistent high quality beer using technology they didn’t even have, or we assume they needed some magical ingredient or method to make good beer. We often forget that tastes were different then, and also forget to factor in the flavor properties aging hoppy beers imparts. We live in a time when it’s all about fresh from the brite tank, highly hopped, high alcohol beers. If we step were to step into the 1800’s though we’d get a much different view from people about what beer was.

In order to understand the IPA it helps if we look at domestic Strong Ales of the time. Strong Ales were brewed both in the US and in Britain. In fact Capitol Taps (He doesn’t get enough link love from me) found an interesting article on a bottle of Strong Ale unearthed while workers excavated on Mission St in Salem. Apparently the bottle was discovered in 1909, and workers described the bottle as sound and having gained in quality. The article also states the bottle was at least 20 years old. If this is the case it shows that strong ales were not just an export beer brewed in Britain for the India market.

Another development is an email I got from a drinker in the UK. He recommended some books on the matter, but also mentioned that in hopping records from the time most beers for export at various places around the world were heavily hopped, not just IPA’s. They also mentioned that many beers at the time were apparently drunk aged, not young like most people assume. If IPA’s were in fact ment to be aged, and not drunk when they hit India’s shores, then this would greatly change the view of the IPA myth. The high hops in IPA’s would be less of a unique transport feature specific to the India market and more of a flavor issue. This would also strengthen the connection many people make between maltier “October Ales” and the IPA.

The Ways Of The Old

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

from theweeklybrew


It seems whenever somone brings up barrel aging, smoked grains, or “real ale” these days they like to pretend they are tasting the flavors of old. They dream of heavy beers with smoky undertones and hints of vanilla and oak, poured from a cask with a slightly oxidized quality. They talk about how it’s the way beer has tasted for hundreds of years, and therefore is how real beer should taste. The reality is that this is our more modern view of what beer would have tasted like.

Technology is the thing you need to understand in order to paint an accurate picture of what a beer would taste like in, say Britain in the 1600’s. The technology available to people drove beer flavors much more then the flavor profiles that drive modern production.

First you start with the malt. Barley and other fermentables at the time didn’t benefit from the breeding we have today. Modern cereals for brewing benefit from an attempt to balance starches, proteins, growability, and other factors. Nowadays we treat our soils and irrigate our fields to help produce a consistent standard. Cereals prior to modern agriculture were inconsistent and could be either high or low protein and no one would really be the wiser. Once cereals were harvested, the ones destined for beer had to be malted. Then the process was inconsistent. Pour grains and water in tubs, soak, drain, germinate, then kiln. Our modern methods regulate temperatures, water, acrospyre length and all sorts of stuff to regiment germination and produce a greater variety of malts. Kilning also added a unique flavor to the beer. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that a new technology allowed grains to be tumbled in a rotating drum. In the 17th century grains were dried on screens or tiles over an open flame or coals creating an intense taste and smell that would probably be more reminiscent to the taste and smell of a campfire then a modern smoked beer. This kilning method also would produce inconsistent roasting of the grain.

Secondly you need to consider hops and yeast. Prior to the 11th century hops weren’t found in beers. By the 1600’s though hops had found their way into beers as a bittering agent. Early hops cultivation suffered similarly to early cereals. There were fewer varieties, inconsistent crops, and poor storage. Even into the 17th century gruit herbs still found their way into most beers. A beer of that time probably would not have any citrus hop flavors like we associate with American beers though. Yeast at the time also suffered from a lack of modernization. Yeast strains were generally regional and were obtained only from a brewer or baker. Breweries who had unique strains often guarded them. If you wanted to make a beer similar to one you tasted in Germany then you needed yeast from that brewery. No White Labs vials from a mail order catalogue.

Barrels in the 1600’s were the primary vessel for storage more so for their durability then their flavors. In the earliest days of brewing brewers would use caustic chemicals like lye or lime, and hot rocks to sanitize their barrels. Imagine the flavors those left in your beers. In Europe though some breweries made an art out of using unsanitized barrels loaded with microbes. These produced the famous sour ales which include Flanders Reds. During this time barrels were often used as long as they could hold beer. Over time and use barrels loose the flavors they are known to impart to beer. Non caustic sanitation didn’t happen until brewers started pitching their barrels by lining them with resin or wax. This made it possible to use barrels without any flavors being imparted, as well as creating a water and air tight environment that was easy to sanitize. In the end all beer was served in what modern drinkers call the “real ale” style. This process required tapping the keg with a tap, and creating a vent hole for air to equalize the pressure. Any beer not consumed soon after the tapping would oxidize and start spoiling due to microbial contact.

So knowing all this can we put together what a beer from the 1600’s tasted like? It would probably look cloudy with bits of yeast, coagulated protein, and vegetable matter. The taste would be similar to a campfire mixed with a malty beverage. There would be some strong herbal notes, perhaps some citrus if yarrow was used. Acetic acid would probably be present and detectable as well as non desirable esthers and other flavors from the yeasts due to improper fermentation temps. The lye used to clean the barrels would leave a salty flavor in the beer rather then vanilla and oak, and there would be a strong oxidation flavor if the cask had been tapped and not finished.

To be fair though lets fast forward a hundred years. Thanks to coke fired kilns malts are lighter and not smokey. Advances in agriculture are leading to more consistency in crop production. Beers from the 1700’s would have lighter colors. Herbal flavors will be less common also. While still suffering quality wise like the beers one hundred years before beer in the 18th century has seen improvements in brewing methods and equipment.

 Into the 1800’s, another hundred years later, and rotating drum roasters produce a consistent quality of malt. Hop and cereal production have seen huge advances in terms of verities grown for beer making. Brewers start pitching their barrels to create a water and air tight vessel that is easy to sanitize and wont impart wood flavors to the beer. Beer from this era begins to resemble modern craft beer in terms of clarity and consistency. Coagulated proteins and sourness are no longer common in beers. Pasteur has greatly added to mans knowledge of micro organisms and how they work. Beer during this time is still poured from the keg, but now by way of a beer engine pumping beer thanks to Joseph Bramah. 

Once you get to the 20th century you have draft beer, glass bottles become common, and the brewing process starts to become mechanized. Beer is lighter, advances in yeast culturing have produced more varieties of yeast. Oxidized beer from a barrel is now a thing of the past. Many of our more modern grains and hops were bred during this time. A beer that is smokey, acidic, or full of coagulated proteins is considered bad beer.

I think it’s fair to say “barrel aged/real ale/smoked” beer never tastes like it did in the old days. If it did, we probably wouldn’t drink it

Fall Is Here

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009


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.

Small Beer

Monday, May 4th, 2009

smallbeerCurrently I have 10 gal of a modern attempt at a small beer bubbling away in both my carboys. I say modern because even at 2.5% ABV it’s still not a true small beer. In fact most small beers out there aren’t true small beers, even the ones made using the same process. So what is a small beer?

Small beers are deeply rooted in history, and the need to provide beer for ones household. Back then beer was made in the home, usually by a woman from the kitchen. In a small family this would usually be the wife, and in a larger household a servant. Beer was in integral part of society then and much of it was made. Unlike modern day brewing though the batches were often larger, and not as diverse. One day I may brew a small beer, and the next a nice roasty stout. When you’re brewing large batches for an entire household for a large space of time though you wouldn’t do this.

So what is a small beer exactly? From what I’ve gathered by reading books on the history of beer what we call a small beer nowadays used to be called a table beer. Malt extracts are a fairly new thing to brewing, and before them all brewing was all grain. When the grains were rinsed in the tun there were multiple runnings made. The first running is what we call now call beer. This was added to the pot, boiled with hops, and turned into what we often think of as a normal beer. Once the first runnings were pulled off they sent more water through the tun and got what was called a second run. We have now arrived at what we now call small beer. This beer is usually around 3% ABV and would be drunk throughout the day and at meals. If it was possible a third running would be made to produce a true small beer. This beer was loaded with tannins, and didn’t have much flavor. It was usually reserved for servants and children.

So is it possible to brew a modern small beer using old methods? Anchor Brewing has a small beer made from the second runnings of their barlywine, and Firestone Walker makes a small beer called lil Opal from the second runnings of their wheat whine Opal. Notice both these small beers are made from big malty beers. With a big beer like a barlywine your efficiency goes down and more sugars are left in the grains. This means that when you make a second running you’ll still get alot of flavor, without a lot of tannins in the wort. This makes big beers the perfect candidates for the homebrewer to experiment with when it comes to making small beer. So if you brew all grain, and your making a big beer like a barlywine then get out an extra fermentor and make some small beer.

Three Tier Distribution Is Bad?

Saturday, April 18th, 2009
Image borrowed without permission from Fermentarium

Image borrowed without permission from Fermentarium

With the recent release of “Beer Wars” there seems to be a lot of junk floating around out there about the three tiered distribution system. First off I haven’t seen “Beer Wars”, and I have no desire to see it. Secondly I am not a brewer, distributor, or retailer. So realize that when I talk about the system I’m neither commenting on Beer Wars, nor talking from experience as one of the three tiers. I’m just a lowly consumer who’s spent the day combing through complaints (mostly on wine forums) and doing research on it.

So what is a three tier system and how does it work? The current system comes out of the haydays of alcohol prior to prohibition. Now allot of micro brew enthusiasts will rail on about how great it must have been back in the day when every community had their own brewery. The problem with this is it isn’t true. Well not in the sense that the facts are wrong, but in the sense that it misrepresents the way things were then. The truth was while lack of refrigeration limited the reach of breweries, it didn’t make this utopia situation where the little guy thrived. I won’t get into that except where it has to do with distribution. I will stay focused! Anyway, back then breweries distributed their own beer. Makes sense right? I make my beer, then sell it to the bar, and the bar sells it to you. What could go wrong?

Well alot went wrong. Most people think that people who made alcoholic beverages didn’t really start getting into strong arm tactics until prohibition, but they did, long before. One way breweries did this is similar to the way coal mines operated long ago. In a coal mine you used to rent your home from the company. You also bought all your tools and food, regardless of price, from the company. This was because company money was only good at the company store. Well if you wanted to open a bar or pub back then you went to the brewery. The brewery would help you finance the bar (furniture and the works), and give you beer to sell. In exchange you only sold that breweries beer, and the brewery had control over your bar. You didn’t want to sell the breweries beer then that was fine, they owned the loan on the bar, and you would be replaced. Also in order to retain control of your bar you had to keep the brewery happy. This meant that your sales were supposed to go up, up, and up some more. In order to remain in compitition and increase growth bars had to get your butt in the bar, and they had to get you to drink more, and more beer. Considering this fact, and the overindulgence in alcohol that resulted, it’s not hard to see why many Americans supported temperance. In fact before prohibition many states had decided to dry up on their own because of issues with alcoholism in their communities.

After the 21st amendment was passed to repeal the 18th the ATF went from a police force, to revenue collecting for the government. In order to make it easier to collect taxes, and in order to prevent the abuses that occurred before, they came up with the three tier system. This now meant that the brewery had to sell their beer to a middle man who then sold it to bars, restaurants, and markets. The distributor would also pay the taxes on said beer after purchasing it from the brewery. Another rule was that distributors wouldn’t pimp merchandise from one particular company like the old days. The brewers would pay for all products that were used to get a beer in the hands of a retailer (like samples) and the distributor would only be in charge of shipment. This prevented the person who sold you beer from being able to decide how you run your establishment, or provide incentives for you to carry certain beers.

So under our current system the retailer buys beers from several breweries, then the distributor pays taxes on the beer. Next the distributor goes out and finds establishments that will carry the beer using promotional material payed for by the brewery. The distributor then sells the beer with a mark up to the retailer. The retailer then uses the promotional material that either they bought from the brewery, or were given by the brewery in order to get you to buy the beer at yet another mark up. Did that make sense? Good, because that’s the way it should look in a perfect world. In reality it doesn’t work quite that way, which makes things even messier.  I’ll get around to explaining why this doesn’t work around Monday hopefully since that’s also another lengthy post.

Gruit Fluff

Thursday, February 26th, 2009


When I mention my gruit recipe, the two most common reactions are to either accuse me of blasphemy for not having hops, or absolute confusion. This has led me to the belief that whenever I discuss gruit I need to give whoever I’m talking to a nice long history lesson.  So here is a breakdown of what gruit is, and why I think it’s a beer style that needs to make a come back.

The first thing you need to know to understand gruit is that beer was not always brewed with hops. The funny part about this is craft beer drinkers don’t like this idea, they just cover their ears and pretend they can’t hear you. For you Bud and Coors drinkers out there I guess I should tell you what hops are since you’ve never tasted them 😀 Hops are an herb related to cannibis that is used to bitter the beer and help preserve the liquid with it’s antiseptic qualities. Hops however didn’t grow everywhere. People throughout the world though made their beverages anyway using bitter antiseptic herbs that grew locally. The main candidates that were used that have survived to modern recipes are Yarrow, Sweet Gale, Marsh Rosemary, Mugwort, and Labrador Tea. The problem with early gruits is a lot of the herbs brewers were adding to their beer were narcotics, and they knew it. As the church spread throughout Europe there were ways they came up with to remove some of the narcotic qualities, but people ignored them. Although the decline of gruit is really complex it’s probably not a stretch to believe that as hops made their way into brewing the narcotic effects of herbs like Sweet Gale gave gruit a bad name in some circles. Although many areas in Northern Europe managed to hold out against the change to hops for a long time change was inevitable as it became possible to get fresh hops in areas where they couldn’t be grown. Nowadays gruit has been relegated to a specialty beer brewed by people who are curious about history, and the tastes of early beers. Gruits have all the body and malt flavors of a well brewed beer, but have an herbal aroma, and a unique taste that I happen to like. With the availability of a lot of these herbs though it can be a pain to procure the supplies to make one. Since the history bit turned out to be long I’ll just toss up the recipe tomorrow. Hopefully Doug gets better so I can procure my grains