Skip to comments.Beer and America
Posted on 06/05/2002 8:55:49 AM PDT by gubamyster
It came over with the Mayflower and stayed on to be the unchallenged drink of democracy.
by Max Rudin
Related Stories: When the micros got macro 10 Great American beers (below)
In the history of American beer, the modern period begins on the spring day in 1882 when the short-lived American Association of baseball teams opened for business. The establishment-leaning National League, aiming for a tonier clientele, had recently doubled ticket prices and banned gambling, Sunday playing, andmost importantbeer. Franchise owners in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and other brewing centers refused to accept the new rules and seceded from the league. Several of them were brewers themselves, and they had learned to count on a sizable increase in collective thirst on home-game days. So, banding together, they formed the American Association. Dubbed the Beer and Whiskey League by the competition, it scorned the toffs and made its pitch directly to the average workingman, keeping the ticket price an affordable 25 cents, playing on the Sabbath, his only day off, and serving what had already become his signature drink.
Though there were strange days ahead for the mostly German-born beer barons, here, in this heady mix of beer, baseball, and fun, were most of the elements that would come to define beers role in the American living room and the American imagination: its connection to sports and other places men go to escape and to bond; its connection to leisure, especially of the American working class; and its implicitly rebellious, nose-thumbing attitude toward the tastes and rules of social betters and other authority figures.
Beer had been part of America from its first settlement by Europeans. Or, more precisely, the lack of it had. The Mayflower, which was headed south, had to make an unplanned stop near wintry Plymouth because, as William Bradford noted in his journal, We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our Beere. (Their hogsheads of ale, a crucial provision on long voyages since water would not keep, had been maintained by the ships cooper, John Alden, who decided to stay on in the New World.) Forced to drink fresh water, always a cause for nervousness in those days, one colonist, with either pride or surprise, found that those that drink it be as healthful, fresh, and lusty as they that drink beer. Farther south in Virginia there was more bitterness about being stranded without good English ale: There remained neither taverne, [nor] beer house, wrote a new immigrant. Had we beene as free from all sinnes as gluttony, and drunkennesse, we might have been canonized for Saints.
But beer was food, and soon the colonists began to brew their own, from malted barley imported from England or from malted local corn. Small beer, weak in malt taste and alcohol and meant for immediate drinking, was a standard beverage at meals. Table beer, ships beer, and strong beer were more powerful brews meant for keeping. Everyone drank beer. Gentlemen kept barrels in their cellars next to their wine. Harvard College had its own brewhouses, and students were served dinner and supper and two bevers between; morning bever was bread and a pint of beer. In 1648 an ailing niece of Gov. John Winthrop, Jr., praised her husband to him: I am sory he shold sofer soe much for me he drinks water that I might drink bere.
Despite all the cultural factors in their favor, English-style ales, as well as the Dutch-style beers brewed in New Amsterdam, were quickly eclipsed by other beverages as the settlements grew. Beer couldnt keep long, and it wasnt stable enough to be shipped over the vast spaces and widely variable climates of the New World without going flat and sour, so it was commercially viable only for local consumption in a few towns. Some farmers turned to cider for everyday drinking, but mostly people drank rum, distilled from cheap West Indian molasses, and then, as American grain fields developed, whiskey. Both rum and whiskey, which could be shipped anywhere and kept indefinitely, became very, very popular.
So popular, in fact, that by the late eighteenth century American leaders were actually strategizing about how to promote the making and drinking of beer. One reason was patriotic: England was doing a thriving export business in beer to the colonies, while suppressing the development of American industry. The colonists retaliated by boycotting English beer and buying American. It is to be hoped, wrote the maltster Sam Adams in 1750, that the Gentlemen of the Town will endeavour to bring our own october beer into Fashion again, by that most prevailing Motive, example, so that we may no longer be beholden to Foreigners for a Credible Liquor, which may be as successfully manufactured in this Country. In 1789 George Washington wrote to Lafayette: We have already been too long subject to British prejudices. I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America: both these articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality. (Washington was a steady customer of the Philadelphia brewer Robert Hare, whose porter, introduced in 1774, quickly won a reputation throughout the colonies and the Caribbean.)
The second reason for the promotion of beer was a desire to wean Americans away from their taste for the hard stuff temperance in its original sense, before it was redefined by evangelical reformers several decades later as a synonym for abstinence. Both reasons were cited by the newly arrived Joseph Coppinger, who in 1810 petitioned President Madison to establish a national brewery in Washington, D.C.: As a National object it has in my view the greatest importance as it would unquestionably tend to improve the quality of our Malt liquors in every point of the Union. And serve to counter act the baneful influence of ardent spirits on the health and Morals of our fellow Citizens. Madison passed the letter on to Jefferson, who had recently begun experimenting with home brewing for the needs of Monticello (a job he assigned to Peter Hemings, the brother of Sally). Jeffer son replied: I have no doubt, either in a moral or economical view, of the desirableness to introduce a taste for malt liquors instead of that for ardent spirits . The business of brewing is now so much introduced in every state, that it appears to me to need no other encouragement than to increase the number of customers. I do not think it a case where a company need form itself on patriotic principles merely, because there is a sufficiency of private capital which would embark itself in the business if there were a demand. But that, thanks to a remote city in Central Europe, was soon to change, and the change would transform American popular culture.
Until 1842 all beer was dark or cloudy or both. Then Austrian brewers discovered how to make it clear and golden.
The beer Jefferson knew did not resemble what was poured at the American Association games in spring 1882 because until 1842 all beers everywhere were dark or cloudy or both. In that year brewers in Pilsen, in the Austrian province of Bohemia, discovered a process for making a clear, golden beer. The general type became known as lager, because it required storage, or lagering, in cold caves for several months before it was ready to drink. Introduced at the same time that mass-produced glasses were replacing opaque wood, leather, and ceramic steins, the new golden lager was light, stimulating, and visually exciting, and it took Europe and America by storm.
Colder and more refreshing than British ale, lager first appealed mainly to the German immigrants who were pouring into American cities in those years, more than a million of them by the 1850s, but it soon spilled over to the wider market. The New York Times in the mid-1850s sniffed that lager was getting a good deal too fashionable. And soon the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce noticed a growth in beer drinking due in no little degree to the taste which has been acquired for lager as a beverage, not only among the native German population, but all classes.
A new cultural institution arose to feed the new frenzy: the beer garden. Distant but recognizable ancestors to the amusement park, the gardens, which could be either open to the air or enclosed winter gardens, welcomed families on Sunday outings and featured live music. They had tables and chairs instead of bars, and they were known for their food. New Yorks Bowery had some of the fanciest, and beer gardens were also popular in St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. The suburbs of Chicago had several, which, according to one observer, served 3,000 people a day in the summer: The waiters, most of them fine-appearing elderly gentlemen, dressed in black, serve beer, wine, and soft drinks to the people out in the open, while at tables beneath the roof, dinners are being served. The garden is brilliantly lighted with Japanese lan terns hanging from the trees. The lights, the trees, the starry heavens above, the moon gliding now and then behind the clouds, soul-stirring music, now strong and full, now soft and sweet, make this a charming spot where lovers delight to come, where the businessman, returned from the crowded centers of the city, comes with wife and child, and the business cares float gradually away, borne on the lighter strains of music. Old men with their pipes find in this place a never-ending source of pleasure, and will sit by the hour philosophizing and reminiscing over a single glass of beer. Festive places where people of all ages came to dance, flirt, eat, and relax, the beer gardens transformed the drink they served. Beer was no longer food. Now it was fun.
New American lager brewers established firms whose names would be familiar more than a century later. In 1842 the Prussian Schaefer brothers, Frederick and Maximilian, set up the first commercial lager brewery in New York City, and two years later Philadelphia had one, the forerunner of C. Schmidt and Sons. In Milwaukee the daughter of the brewer Jacob Best married the steamboat captain Frederick Pabst; her brother Charles set up a lager brewery in 1848 and seven years later sold out to a young brewer fresh from Germany named Frederick Miller. In 1856 in the same city the brewer August Krug died, and his widow married the bookkeeper Joseph Schlitz. Eberhard Anheuser, a St. Louis soap manufacturer, acquired a small brewery in 1860 and then had the good fortune to acquire a son-in-law as a partner, a talented salesman named Adolphus Busch.
Lager had to be brewed, stored, and shipped at low temperatures, and the brewers created a huge market for natural ice. (Milwaukees early prominence as a brewing city was due partly to the availability of lots of natural ice.) Millions of tons were cut from frozen rivers and lakes and shipped each year. At first brewers lagered their beer underground. The Schaefer brothers in 1849 carved caves in the solid rock under their brewery at Fiftieth Street and Fourth (now Park) Avenue. A reporter toured Bests vaults in Milwaukee in 1864 and wrote, A prominent traveler and political writer who was one of our party, informed us that it very much resembled the Bastille.
The Civil War would turn out to have been the high point of whiskeys popularity. By the 1870s Americans had clearly chosen beer over spirits, and lager over ale. Breweries had always been regional, by necessity, but now a national mar ket opened up to the big firms with capital to invest in new technology. Lager, if kept cold, was more stable than ale, and advances in bottling, refrigeration, and railroad transporta tion, along with the introduction of pasteurization (invented by the French chemist while studying the fermentation of beer), meant longer shelf life and the ability to ship beer long distances without spoilage. (The advent of the crown bottle cap in 1892 would extend shelf life even further.) Adolphus Busch was the first to see what all this made possible: the creation of a national brand. Near Pilsen was a town, once home to the royal court brewery of Bohemia, that made a slightly sweeter version of golden lager whose recipe Busch felt was ideally suited to American tastes. The town was called Ceske Budejovice, but it was better know by its German name, Budweis. The Budweiser brand, created in 1875, would make Busch a very wealthy man.
As beer became big business, and a national pastime, a specifically American beer began to emerge in response to consumer demand: pale, drier, and lighter than the Pilsener style, which was already very light by European standards. It was achieved by adding starch to the malted barley. Pabst (for its Blue Ribbon lager, introduced in 1882) and most other brewers preferred corn, but Anheuser Busch used rice, which it thought added snappiness to Budweiser. (Walt Whitman would use the same word, snap, to describe the special, fast American character of the game of baseball.)
Ever since the 1880s, beer had a powerful connection to sports.
The beer served in the Beer and Whiskey League stadiums in spring 1882 was recognizably the American beverage we know today. Milder, lighter, and less bitter than older American ales or European beers, pale, effervescent, low in alcohol, and served very cold, it was a refreshment, meant to be drunk quickly. No longer part of the history of American nourishment, it was now part of the history of American entertainment.
If the family-friendly, outdoor, music-and-lantern-filled beer garden had remained the model for beer consumption, todays beer commercials would probably resemble those for Disneyland or Great Adventure. That their imagery is quite different, and often features blue-collar men, has to do with developments in the later nineteenth century. As the brewers sought to expand their markets and their sales, they took over or built thousands of saloons to retail their brands. To entice customers, they made the saloons gorgeous and impressive, offering extras like free newspapers, free lunches, and family entrances. But despite the money they spent, their clientele would more and more be drawn from the lower rungs of the social ladder.
The temperance movement, and especially the powerful Anti-Saloon League, targeted the saloons as places of prostitution and vice. As the movement gathered momentum, ice water began to be served in restaurants and at banquets and public occasions, and women and respectable middle-class men stopped drinking, at least in public. That left the saloons to immigrants and workingmen. (And to the desperate dinner guests who, an English traveler noted, would be ashamed to be seen with a glass of beer at their dinner and prefer to go to the bar, where they are not so likely to be seen.)
Where once these men would have drunk whiskey, now they drank beer. Excise taxes introduced during the Civil War had raised the price of whiskey, so distillers began making an aged, higher-quality product aimed at the middle class. The more lightly taxed beer became the ordinary mans drink. Social stigma soon followed. A Colorado physician, noting that opiates were a growing and fashionable vice among the richespecially the fashionable women, went on to concede that this was only natural since whiskey and champagne are painful in their after-effects rather than pleasant, and beer is vulgar.
Such, at any rate, was the view from above toward the end of the century, and it was reinforced by the naturalist novels of the period. The beer drinkers in Stephen Cranes 1893 Maggie: A Girl of the Streets fit the billlaborers and immigrants all: The vast crowd had an air throughout of having just quitted labor. Men with calloused hands and attired in garments that showed the wear of an endless trudge for a living, smoked their pipes contentedly and spent five, ten, or per haps fifteen cents for beer . The nationalities of the Bowery beamed upon the stage from all directions. Pete aggressively walked up a side aisle and took seats with Maggie at a table beneath the balcony. Two beehs! Beer is the alcoholic ensign of class degradation, and the heroines final ruin is marked by the appearance of a beer-soaked demon: The girl went into gloomy districts near the river, where the tall black factories shut in the street and only occasional broad beams of light fell across the pavements from saloons . The shutters of the tall buildings were closed like grim lips . When almost to the river the girl saw a huge fat man in torn and greasy garments . His small, bleared eyes, sparkling from amidst great rolls of red fat, swept eagerly over the girls upturned face. He laughed, his brown, disordered teeth gleaming under a grey, grizzled moustache from which beer-drops dripped.
It was the same on the other side of the country. As whiskey and cocktails climbed the social ladder, beer descended it. Frank Norris had his poor brute McTeague, in the novel of that name, make the point at his own wedding when a guest proposes a champagne toast: The guests rose and drank. Hardly one of them had ever tasted champagne before. The moments silence after the toast was broken by McTeagues exclaiming with a long breath of satisfaction: Thats the best beer I ever drank.
But there was a flip side to the association of beer, saloons, and workingmena view, so to speak, from below. And this bottom-up perspective has done more than anything else to shape what beer means in America. If the saloon was a place of sin to middle-class reformers, to working people and immigrants it was a place of refuge. For the five cents a glass of beer cost, the saloon offered cards and billiards, information, food, and, most of all, company. The saloon exists in our town, a Westerner wrote in 1912, because it offers a common meeting place. It dispenses good cheer. It ministers to the craving for fellowship. To the exhausted, worn-out body, to the strained nerves, the relaxation brings rest. In cities, workers transferred their traditional social drinking and bonding to the saloon from the factory, where industrialization and rigid timetables made it both unacceptable and dangerous. In a saloon, over a beer, where the ritual of treating your neighbor to a drink made every man equal, there was a kind of virtual democracy, a haven from the economic pressures of the workplace and the aspirational pressures of home.
Beer acquired a new attitude from the workingclass culture of the saloon, a kind of macho bohemianism that potently combined bravado, rebelliousness, masculine sentimentality, self-deprecating humor, and a large dose of skepticism about American middle-class success. Jack London, appropriately, was probably the first writer to capture it in print. His 1913 memoir John Barleycorn, ostensibly a temperance tract, is rather more an ode to beer, male bonding, and a devil-may-care attitude toward work and money: Come on and have a beer, I invited. Again we stood at the bar and drank and talked, but this time it was I who paidten cents! A whole hour of my labor at a ma chine . Money no longer counted. It was comradeship that counted . There was a stage when the beer didnt count at all, but just the spirit of comradeship of drinking together. Beer, for the first but hardly the last time in our literature, is part of the workingmans rite of passage: Ay, even the barkeeper was giving me commendation as a man. Hes been sousin here with Nelson all afternoon. Magic words! The accolade delivered by a barkeeper with a beer glass! And so I won my manhoods spurs.
London understood something else as well. This new culture of beer contained more than the low comedy of rebelliousness and the sentimentality of male friendship. It also held the romance of adventure and the elegy of a lost era of freedom, of heroism and power, when those now humble were kings: The more beer Captain Nelson and I drank the better we got acquainted . So he drifted back to his wild young days, and spun many a rare yarn for me, while we downed beer, treat by treat, all through a blessed summer afternoon. And it was only John Barleycorn that made possible that long afternoon with the old sea dog. All this was part of the working-class retort to the reformers and evangelists, and in one form or another it would resonate in the American popular imagination long after Cranes beer demon had be come period melodrama.
By the early twentieth century, beerthe drink of moderation, of fun, of sports, most of all of workingmenwas poised to assume its place as national drink and national symbol when it ran into a weird detour. American beer had not yet entirely shed its links with Germany and Germans, associations wealthy beer barons like Adolphus Busch, with his estates in America and Germany, his backing of the Tyrolean Alps beer concession at the St. Louis Worlds Fair, and his support of Germanys exhibit there (which won him the Order of the Crown from the Kaiser), did nothing to discourage.
The worst of all our German enemies, the most menacing, are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.
As Americas entry into World War I neared, these associations became, to say the least, a liability. The brewers support of German-American cultural groups, and their lobbying of the federal government to fend off politically well-organized prohibitionists, suddenly looked like a secret plot to undermine the war effort. Antialcohol feeling merged with nationalism and xenophobia, and suddenly beer was under attack. We have German enemies in this country too, declared one leading Wisconsin prohibitionist in 1918, and the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing, are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.
When Prohibition came, beer was banned along with more potent beverages. Some companies tried to market near beers with most of the alcohol removed, under brand names like Bevo, Yip, Ona, Chrismo, Famo, Luxo, Quizz, Vivo, and Hoppy. Drinkers, not surprisingly, werent having any. (The food authority Waverley Root called near beer such a wishy-washy, thin, ill-tasting, discouraging sort of slop that it might have been dreamed up by a Puritan Machiavelli with the intent of disgusting drinkers with genuine beer forever.) Most brewers, unable to compete with bootleg beer and whiskey, went broke. Home-brewing supply stores mushroomed, but the quality of home brew was awful and the effect unpredictable. After Ive had a couple of glasses Im terribly sleepy, one drinker reported. Sometimes my eyes dont seem to focus and my head aches. Im not intoxicated, understand, merely feel as if Ive been drawn through a knothole.
The irony was that Prohibition torpedoed a century of temperance campaigning. Since the Civil War the consumption of spirits had declined as beer became more popular. Prohibi tion changed that, driving people away from beer and toward spirits, which carried a higher profit margin for bootleggers. Samuel Eliot Morison recalled that college students who before Prohibition would have a keg of beer and sit around singing the Dartmouth Stein Song and Under the Anheuser Busch, now got drunk quickly on bathtub gin, and could manage no lyric more complicated than How Dry Am I! Heywood Broun dubbed the Volstead Act a bill to discourage the drinking of good beer in favor of indifferent gin. Worse, there were dangerous grumblings. Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor fumed that Prohibition was a class law directed against the beer of the workingman, since wealthy people had laid in supplies of wine before the ban and were the only ones who could afford to drink in speakeasies.
Repeal was an act of sanity as well as of political expediency, and it established a legal distinction between beer and spirits that remains to this day. Government was back in the business of promoting beer, allowing it to be sold in grocery stores and supermarkets alongside its new competition, soft drinks. Prohibition had killed the old saloon, which had offered beverages of all kinds both for drinking on the premises and for carrying out. New laws restricted public drinking and encouraged package sales of beer for home consumption, which grew steadily through the thirties and forties, fueled by the introduction in 1935 of the beer can. Anyway, beer drinkers had gotten out of the tavern habit during Prohibition, and new refrigerators made it easier to keep beer at home.
World War II showed how far Americanization had come. This time there was no talk of prohibition for the sake of the war effort, nor was there a whisper of anti-German sentiment directed against brewers. Instead, brewing was designated an essential national industry, and the largest beer companies were asked to set aside 15 percent of their production for servicemen. Grateful returning soldiers would help make beer an inextricable part of postwar American life and would contribute to the dominance of a few powerful national chain breweries.
The story of beer in America since World War II, apart from skyrocketing consumption, is about the shift in power from sales to marketing. By the 1960s the big brewers were in every market, and the battle had become one for market share. Advertising spending increased exponentially, brand image became all important, and new productslite, low-alcohol, no-alcohol, draft, malt liquor, ice beerproliferated as the giant brewers fought among themselves and tried to fend off flanking moves, first from imported beers and then from the micros.
But the symbols and emotions with which these battles were (and continue to be) fought were already familiar, and the marketing blitz simply confirmed their continued power in the American imagination. Or, in one case, continued implausibility. Beer and temperance, for example, a theme that went back to the Puritans and the Founders, was the centerpiece of a fifties advertising campaign, Beer and AleAmericas Beverages of Moderation. Family picnics, fishing trips, and boating jaunts all were used to suggest that beer was just a normal part of middle-class life, or, as an early Pabst television commercial put it, Its beer, Mama, and TV three ingredients of a recipe for successful living. Mad, with its unfailing nose for hype, quickly parodied the ads, depicting pie-eyed, Bermuda-shorted suburbanites stumbling around at their backyard barbecues.
Beer as fun has had slightly more staying power, but it is closely tied to faddishness and can easily get out of hand. As it did in the late eighties, when Bud and Miller re sorted to spring-break promotions and wet-T-shirt contests to carry their message to college students, roughly half of whom were under the new feder ally mandated 21-year-old drinking age. A bizarre-looking female bull terrier named Honey Tree Evil Eye, better known as Spuds MacKenzie, party animal, was the last straw. Lawmakers were convinced that brewers were intentionally targeting children. The industry, under threat of an advertising ban, had to accept warning labels in 1988, and two years later the federal beer excise tax was doubled.
Ever since the days of the Beer and Whiskey League, beer has had a powerful connection to sports. (Just as you would never serve beer at an art opening, youd never bring wine to a Super Bowl party.) And its no wonder, considering the aura of men-at-work-and-play they share. It was in the 1920s that New York brewer Jacob Ruppert, co-owner of the Yankees from 1915 and sole owner soon thereafter, raided the Boston Red Sox for Babe Ruth, and then built him a stadium. Thirty years later Gussie Busch bought the St. Louis Cardinals, acquiring the right to sell his beer to thousands of fans and also to place Budweiser signs all over a stadium seen by millions of television viewers. But this would turn out to be childs play compared with the marketing wars of the 1970s, when Miller and then Bud would between them buy up every available minute of ad time during sporting events, using jock spokesmen to make the point that the new lite beer was just as macho as the full-calorie kind.
But most enduring, and most powerful, is beers connec tion to the culture of American workingmen, a connection thats grown only stronger as the idea of the working class has morphed over the past century into the idea of the average Joe, Joe Six-pack. With all of beers obvious success in all social strata, it still carries overtones of nose-thumbing at class pretension and high culture. A classic example is the Marx Brothers 1935 A Night at the Opera. When the highbrow singer Lasparri is knocked cold by his dresser (Harpo), bystanders Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho) and Fiorello (Chico) each plant a foot on his body as if stepping up to the bar. Two beers, bartender, says Groucho, and Chico pipes in, Ill have two beers too. Its a straight shot from there to the wild, beer-soaked antiauthoritarianism of the 1978 Animal House, with Bluto (John Belushi), the symbolic center of the movies anarchy, crushing beer cans and smashing beer bottles against his head.
In another and subtler guise, this is the macho bohemian side of beer culture, a line that stretches from Jack Londons waterfront dives to the Beats, all variations on working-class skepticism. The person who may have understood this strain best was John Steinbeck, whose 1945 novel Cannery Row gave us the nonconformist scientist Doc and the neer-do-wells of Montereys sardine district. There, Doc says of them, are your true philosophers . In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed. All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls, but Mack and the boys are healthy and curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy their appetites without calling them some thing else. This speech so dried out Docs throat that he drained his beer glass. He waved two fingers in the air and smiled. Theres nothing like that first taste of beer, he said.
Beer was about holding on to a heroic and humorous stoicism.
The deepest layer of all, though, lies in the ties between beer, work, and the saloon and the connection of all of these to a working-class vision of democracy that has seduced the whole culture. Somehow, by the middle of the twentieth century, the bar where men shared beer had picked up resonances of both the colonial tavern, mythical birthplace of patriot ism and democracy, and the pre-Prohibition saloon, refuge from the competitive marketplace, from confining domes ticity, from the coldness of modern life, from the pressure to rise and better oneself. The Miller brand discovered the power of the image when, in the late sixties, marketers changed the advertising approach. The Champagne of Bottled Beers, with its implicit appeal to class, became Its Miller Time, an ode to the workingman, and Miller found itself shooting up from seventh place in beer sales to second.
If wine was about class aspiration, and cocktails were connected with the compulsive striving for success, beer, in this deepest layer, was about accepting who you are and trying to get by. It was about effacing, for a time, the bruising society outside the bar with the joy and dig nity, the original democracy, of the community inside. And it was about holding on, in a harsh world, to your sanity and your sense of humor.
This is beers stoic poetry, a song that carries memories of the generations of struggling new Americans it has soothed and restoredfirst Germans and Irish, later Poles and Czechs and Russians and others in their turn. The writer Joseph Mitchell understood its quiet music. In 1940 he described an old saloon almost as if it were a secular churcha sacred refuge, out of time. It is a drowsy place, he wrote, in a passage that goes to the heart of the matter. The bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the wall have not been in agreement for many years. The clientele is motley . In the summer they sit in the back room, which is as cool as a cellar. In the winter they grab chairs nearest the stove and sit in them, as motionless as barnacles, until around six, when they yawn, stretch, and start for home, insulated with ale against the dreadful loneliness of the old and alone, God be wit yez, Kelly says as they go out the door.
Max Rudin is publisher of the Library of America. His essay on another American indispensable, the martini, appeared in the July/August 1997 issue.
PHOTOGRAPHS: AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLECTION
When the micros got macro
Why America offers the worlds finest selection of beers
Even as Buds pitch-dog Spuds MacKenzie was leading major beer makers in an ever more frenzied dance of fads and marketing gimmicks designed to sell ever blander drinks, a countertrend was developing a sidebar to the yuppie food revolution of the 1980s. Some beer drinkers, tired of a steady diet of near-tasteless lagers and one or two imports with only slightly more emphatic flavor, were discovering an alternative.
A new crop of American microand specialty craft brews were aiming to redraw the beer map, traditionally divided between domestics and imports, as a choice between mainstream (bland) and sophisticated (not bland). Ultimately, the most commercially successful would be the Boston Beer Company, founded in 1985, and its Sam Adams Boston Lager brand, whose patriotic label with its faux-colonial design suggested a return to the honesty and integrity of traditional New England craftsmanship. It struck just the right note in the Reagan eighties, when patriotism was making a comeback and movements to preserve Americas cultural heritage were scoring noteworthy victories.
Much of it was, needless to say, hypenot so much anti-fad as an anti-fad fad. The Boston Beer Company did not actually brew its own beer but had it made according to a proprietary recipe at a large regional brewery in Pennsylvania. (This followed an arrangement made a few years before by the New Amsterdam Brewing Company, whose beer was produced at the large F. X. Matt brewery in Utica, New York, in what had once been traditional ale country. Matt now also brews for the Brooklyn, Dock Street, and Massachusetts Bay breweries.) As Boston Magazine wrote of Sam Adams soon after its appearance, [Bostons] beer is currently made and bottled in Pittsburgh, a perhaps forgivable eccentricity for a beer named after a man who never drank a lager and who was not a brewer at all.
But drinkers didnt really care about authenticity; they cared about flavor, and Sam Adams Boston Lager had it, as did specialty-brew competitors like Petes Wicked Ale. In this, the commercial craft brewers were building on, and cashing in on, a trend that had begun in the West in the late seventies: a new generation of flavorful American ales, carefully brewed in small batches with all malt and no additives, by a group of dedicated amateurs, many of whom had started as home-brew hobbyists. Inspiration may have come from Fritz Maytag, of the washing-machine-and-blue-cheese family, who took over San Franciscos old and ailing Anchor Steam and in 1975 created the first of the new breed, Liberty Ale, in commemoration of the bicentennial of Paul Reveres ride. Huge in flavor, intensely aromatic, and bursting with the delectable bitterness of hops, it bore the same relation to subtle, understated European beers as California wine did to French. And like California wine, it went great with the spicy new American cuisine.
Maytag was followed by a few visionary small craftsmen who built the first brewpubs (breweries built to serve a bar on the premises) and microbreweries. (Micros are defined as breweries producing fewer than 15,000 barrels a year. For perspective, in 1997 total domestic beer production was 192 million barrels; Boston Brewing, the leader in the tiny category of craft or specialty beers, produced almost 1.4 million.) The first micro was established in 1976 at Sonoma, in California wine country, and it made a Scottish-inspired ale called New Albion. Boulder Brewing, set up in a goat shed in 1979 by a physicist who first brewed porter with homemade equipment, is the oldest still in business.
Americas first brewpub opened in an old opera house in Yakima, Washington, in 1982, and soon the Northwestern cities of Portland and Seattle, with their proximity to barley and hops fields and a climate that demanded something more substantial than a light thirst quencher, would have more breweries than any other American city. The most famous, and now one of the biggest, is probably Seattles Redhook Ale, started by a former Starbucks executive and a former winemaker in an old trolley barn.
Small craft brewing grew very rapidly in the 1980s, spreading eastward as it did. Although American microbreweries now offer a wider range of styles than any other country can boast, the movement has remained essentially ale-centric, for several reasons. For one, many were started by home brewers who could not afford, even if they had wanted it, the expensive cooling and storage equipment required for lagers. For another, many of the early entrepreneurs were inspired by Britain and the Campaign for Real Ale that began there in the early 1970s. Most of all, though, in America lager still meant Budweiser and Miller, and ale wasnt lager.
By the early and middle 1990s micros and craft brews were the fastest-growing beer segments. The majors, plagued by declining sales for their flagship brands and a general feeling among consumers that big was bad, got into the act. Millers Red Dog, produced at something called the Plank Road Brewery, which happened to use the same production lines as Miller High Life and Miller Lite, was the first response. It was quickly followed by Anheuser-Buschs Red Wolf and Coorss Killians Red. (Originality in product naming is apparently something beaten out of you in business school.) There were suddenly so many new craft beers of unidentifiable origin and uncertain quality on the market that the category saw a shakeout in the late nineties. Many companies failed, and many consumers switched to imported brands with names they could recognize.
Things appear to have calmed down again, and the microand craft-beer segment seems to be settling in at a market share of about 3 percent, a small number that doesnt suggest the truly astonishing variety of styles and flavors offered to consumers by the 1,600 or so brands now available in various parts of the country.
10 Great American Beers
Michael Jackson chooses our best
For many American consumers, wine was either Burgundy or Chablis before the renaissance that began in the 1960s. That is hard to credit today; and so, too, have we largely forgotten the fact that beer in the United States has also enjoyed a renaissance, perhaps even greater than that experienced by wine, and less commonly understood. Pilsner, the first golden beer, conquered the world so thoroughly that 50 years ago modern beer was a standard pilsner type in a can, a convenience product along with the sliced white bread and processed cheese. Thats all changed now, and here are some of the finest results of the American brewing revolution.
1. Tuppers Hop Pocket Pils, for its dizzyingly heady bouquet. Also the more cedary, appetizing Hop Pocket Ale. Creator Bob Tupper is a schoolteacher and beer enthusiast who hosts seminars and tastings in Washington, D.C., at a bar called the Brickskeller, which has more than a thousand bottled beers. A pocket is the sack in which hops are traditionally pressed. The Hop Pocket beers are among a wide range produced at the Old Dominion microbrewery, in the Virginia suburbs, near Dulles Airport.
2. St. Victorious is a strong (8.5 percent alcohol by volume) dark brown lager. This style is known as a double bock, and it is regarded in its native Munich as a warmer for winter or early spring. This example is creamy, nutty, and portlike. It is produced by Victory Brewing, of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. The founders Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet met at the age of 10.
3. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is the ultimate dessert beer. It has an astonishingly chocolatey tastebut contains none. Stouts gain their color and flavor from grains that have been highly roasted during the malting process. Brewers use the term chocolate malt to describe a variation in which carbonization is avoided. Traditional stouts are fermented with ale (as opposed to lager) yeasts, which impart a fruitiness. This stout tastes like a Sacher torte. The company was established in 1988 and built a brewery in a former matzo bakery in Brooklyn, New York, in 1996.
4. Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold has a grainy dryness in addition to the big maltiness that characterizes all beers from this brewery, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Gold is one of the few lagers to model itself on the firm-bodied, minerally style of Dortmund, Germany. The brewery also has an amber red, yet maltier, Vienna-style lager, named Eliot Ness. There are bullet holes from his era in the brewerys restaurant, formerly the Market Tavern.
5. Expedition Stout tastes like beef braised with prunes and port wine. This immensely strong (10 abv) stout is from the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, in the Michigan city of the same name. The world has very few breweries specializing in stout. Most of those produce only one; this brewery has been known to offer 10 very different stouts at the same time.
6. New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red. New Glarus is a Swiss settlement in Wisconsin. There the brewer Dan Carey, who worked extensively in Europe, has created his own counterpart to a Belgian cherry beer. It is based on raw and malted wheat and four types of barley malt and is fermented with a mixed culture of ale yeast and other microorganisms. The beer has an almost purple color, a textured body, a malty background, and a beautiful balance of almondy fruitiness and tartness. It has won several awards in Europe.
7. La Folie is in a rare style that is given an intentional sourness by maturation in uncoated wood. The classic example is Rodenbach Grand Cru, made in Belgium. Rodenbachs former brewer Peter Bouckaert now works in Fort Collins, Colorado, where, at the New Belgium Brewing Company, he produces La Folie. It is a blend of two brews, matured in red wine casks and tuns for periods of between one and three years. Semiwild yeasts are used. The blend has a further fermentation in the bottle, with a red-wine culture. La Folie has a dark, pinkish amber color, a sustained bead, a toffeelike start, then apple and passion-fruit notes. Quite sour in finish, but a beautifully balanced, food-friendly beer.
8. Anchor Steam Beer is an American original. This style of beer, something of a hybrid between an ale and a lager, was developed during the California Gold Rush. Brewers were trying to make the new lager styles without access to the necessary cooling. They improvised by using very shallow fermentation vessels, with a high proportion of the brew exposed to the air. The result was a highly carbonic beer. When the casks were tapped, the emerging CO2 seemed like steam. Anchor Steam is firm, dry, lightly fruity, and very complex.
9. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the most universally admired product among American lovers of specialty beers. In its emphasis on hop aroma, its floweriness, its clean, lean malt background, and its digestibility and drinkability, it has set a style that is often described as American pale ale. The brewery was established on a shoestring in 1981 by partners with minimal experience. It has been run in a quietly single-minded manner and became the biggest micro.
10. BridgePort India Pale Ale. BridgePort, founded in 1984 as Columbia River Brewing, is the oldest pub-micro in Portland, Oregon, a great city of small beers. There are about 20 breweries here, more than in any other city worldwide. The Northwest especially favors very hoppy styles like India pale ales. This example has a lemony, grapefruity, resiny aroma; an oily palate, with suggestions of vanilla pod; and a rush of minty bitterness in the finish. No fewer than five hop varieties are used. Todays American IPAs are typically far hoppier than those produced in Britain. Pale ales sent to the British Empire in India were given a heavy dose of hops as a preservative on the long sea journey.
An internationally recognized authority on beer and spirits, Michael Jackson has been chronicling the microbrewery movement from the beginning; his most recent book on beer is The Great Beer Guide.
"Mmmmmm .... beer." - Homer J. Simpson
My favorite quote re: near-beer is from Mark Twain. "The man who named it 'near-beer' was a poor judge of distance."
Having lived in Wisconsin for a couple of years I can personally attest to this beer. I got really spoiled on good beer and cheese up there. Then I moved back to Kansas. Oh well..... "mmmmmmm beer!"
For a really great beer try any of the Chimay's. Bottled by the Belgian Trappist Monks. Really good stuff!
We live in Western Washington and the number of small micro breweries, have seen us pay a visit...
On the weekend, the hubby goes out to one of the local restaurants, with its own on premises brewery, samples the wares, and then gets a 'Growler' full of freshly brewed beer, for our enjoyment over the weekend...
I am going to print out this article for him, for future reference....the history of beer, in America, is indeed interesting...
"I'd kill everyone in this room for one drop of sweet, delicious beer..." Homer Simpson
Right now, his newest hobby that he started, is collecting 'growlers'...So far, its only a small collection, with just 4 'growlers'...but at the last place he got his most current 'growler', he also got a little insulated bag, made expressly for slipping tightly over the 'growler' and keeping the beer cold, until you get home...this eliminates the need for having to haul around an ice filled ice chest in the car...
(and camle will attest to that!!)
I thought we had that situation straightened out????
Huh??? I'm YOUR beer-b!tch?
That's OK... Anything for a chick of your caliber... I think I'll just grovel here at yer feet for a while again...
I see London, I see France... Woooo!
Of course, this where the beer is.
Look at THIS, angel. See this? Huh? Now THAT'S a lady for ya.
The irony was that Prohibition torpedoed a century of temperance campaigning. Since the Civil War the consumption of spirits had declined as beer became more popular. Prohibi tion changed that, driving people away from beer and toward spirits, which carried a higher profit margin for bootleggers. Samuel Eliot Morison recalled that college students who before Prohibition would have a keg of beer and sit around singing the Dartmouth Stein Song and Under the Anheuser Busch, now got drunk quickly on bathtub gin, and could manage no lyric more complicated than How Dry Am I! Heywood Broun dubbed the Volstead Act a bill to discourage the drinking of good beer in favor of indifferent gin. Worse, there were dangerous grumblings. Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor fumed that Prohibition was a class law directed against the beer of the workingman, since wealthy people had laid in supplies of wine before the ban and were the only ones who could afford to drink in speakeasies.Nothing's funnier than seeing stodgy busybodies have their campaigns backfire. One of the best things that could have ever happened in American history would have been if some saloonkeeper had plugged Carrie Nation right between her beady eyes.
4. Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold has a grainy dryness in addition to the big maltiness that characterizes all beers from this brewery, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Gold is one of the few lagers to model itself on the firm-bodied, minerally style of Dortmund, Germany. The brewery also has an amber red, yet maltier, Vienna-style lager, named Eliot Ness. There are bullet holes from his era in the brewerys restaurant, formerly the Market Tavern.Both Great Lakes and its competitor Crooked River have several excellent brands that are highly recommended when visiting here.
The bullet holes are pre-Ness, who came here after Prohibition was over. The Volstead Act was basically ignored in Cleveland anyway, except for the fact that organized crime rather than legitimate business ran the alcohol trade.
Dortmunder Gold is good stuff.
She's quite a prolific smoker.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.