Category Archives: Brewstory

Brewstory – The Spirit of Thanksgiving

History of the World: A Six-Pack at a Time

A lot of controversy surrounds the tradition of Thanksgiving. It is commonly accepted, however, that the surviving Mayflower pilgrims experienced a good harvest in 1621. They celebrated the harvest, supposedly inviting natives who had helped them survive the terrible winter. Although Thanksgiving wasn’t made a holiday until 1863 (thanks, Lincoln), the spirit of the holiday is as old as time. All the beers in this six-pack reflect the spirit of giving, community, and thanks.

1) Sierra Nevada Pale Ale:

In 1978 the U.S. Congress passed an act which exempted home-brewed beer from tax. Jimmy Carter later signed the act, and a homebrew/craft beer revolution began. One particular homebrewer by the name of Ken Grossman went on to found Sierra Nevada in Chico, California.

Free Prize Inside

At the time, everybody in the country was drinking flavorless macro-lagers. Sierra Nevada not only turned to ale, a fading British style, but they developed a new ale from the abundant American hops growing on the West Coast. Since the citrusy American hops were such a contrast to the herbal/earthy British hops, the yeast would have to provide the same contrast. Instead of using British Ale yeast, which would give a little sweetness and fruitiness, a new American Ale yeast was developed which finished drier and more crisp, allowing the hops and American malt to really come through.

The first batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was brewed on November 15, 1980. It is this nod to the hop that particularly spurred the American craft beer movement, and it is the new yeast that allowed it to happen. While that would be reason enough to give thanks, Sierra Nevada actually bottle-conditions their beer. That layer of sediment at the bottom of the bottle is a gift – the yeast that started it all 30 years ago. If you feel so bold, harvest it and make your own beer.

2) Pilsner Urquell:

The Original

Although Pilsner is perhaps one of the most popular and widely produced beer styles today, it is fairly young. Apparently the Bohemian town of Pilsen (Plzeň) was unsatisfied with the top-fermented ales being produced. They hired a Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, and in 1842, the first batch of Pilsner beer was produced and consumed (in just five weeks). The beer was a culmination of four particular ingredients: renowned Bohemian barley malt, remarkably soft bicarbonate-free water, prized Saaz hops (Zatec Red), and bottom-fermenting Bavarian lager yeast.

But they already had all those quality ingredients… except for the yeast. Some say Josef Groll was familiar with lager yeast, some say Bavarian monks smuggled it over. But I prefer the story where a traveling Bavarian monk gave them the yeast, thus making everything possible. This is contrasted with the medieval law that punished anyone smuggling Saaz roots out of the country, to death.

Urquell means ‘original spring’ in… Czech? Nope, it’s German. German presence in Bohemia has a long and storied past, and German attempts at Pilsner beer have resulted in histories of their own. More on all that some other time. Pilsner Urquell is widely available in the U.S. but is reportedly less flavorful as an export than what is consumed in the Czech Republic. It is exceptionally light, somewhat sweet with a delicate bitter balance, golden color, and a wonderful herbal aroma.

3) Paulaner Salvator:

Liquid Bread

Speaking of firsts, the first marketed Doppelbock was called Salvator, made in Germany, and for much time was enjoyed only by the monks who brewed it. The beer is a hearty, sweet lager that sustained the Italian monks (from Paula) while fasting for lent. It was secularized and made public in 1780, and it impressed upon people as a double bock beer, thus the name – doppelbock. It was marketed as Salvator which means ‘the Savior,’ since it was the ‘Holy Father’ beer during lent.

Salvator is a fairly dark, sweet beer, with a generous alcohol warmth. Goes great with carrot cake, among other sweets. The label symbolizes the monks giving the beer to secular society.

4) Yards Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce

Poor Richard’s Almanack was an informative and witty pamphlet published annually by Benjamin Franklin, and written under a pseudonym, Richard Saunders.  It contained everything from weather forecasts, to anecdotes, to predicting the deaths of astrologers (huh?).

Good living, good drinking

One particular article gave to the people the concept for an alcoholic beverage you could make right in the home. While making beer and spirits in the home was not a new concept, this beverage model was built on the idea of local, accessible ingredients. Barley malt and hops were not easily acquired at the time, and Franklin would surely not want to support English trade, so the solution to ‘outsourcing’ your beer was to make your own at home.

The exact recipe is not known, and likely consisted of corn meal and molasses. It is important to note that this drink would not fit into most definitions of beer. A detailed recreation can be found here. For Ben Franklin’s 300th birthday, breweries tried their best to recreate the brew. However, one version can be found year-round: Yards’ Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce. It resembles a beer more closely, in that it has malt and hops, but it’s also rounded-out with a lovely spruce character: an abundant local ingredient Franklin would no doubt have approved of. In fact, Yards’ website says Franklin’s original recipe called for ‘spruce essence.’ Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce is part of Yards’ Ales of the Revolution, featuring beers adapted from recipes put forth by Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton.

5) Schneider Weisse

In, again...

Wheat may seem innocent enough, but its use in brewing was highly controversial in Germany for centuries. The problem with wheat beer? It’s too good.

Its use in commercial brewing in the region can be traced back as early as the 15th Century, where it was noted for its lighter color, compared to the red and brown barley beers of the time. Thus it was referred to as ‘white‘ beer, or ‘weisse’ in German. The beer was wildly popular, so popular in fact that there were concerns too much wheat was being used for beer, and not enough for bread. In 1516, it became law in Bavaria that beer may be made only with barley, water, and hops, even though wheat was being used throughout the rest of Germany. The Duke of Bavaria reserved the exclusive right to use wheat until the beer declined in popularity in the 19th Century.

A Bavarian brewer by the name of Georg Schneider was reportedly responsible for getting the rights to brew with wheat back in the public domain in 1872. German weisse beers are widely enjoyed today in all their forms: golden, dark, filtered, cloudy, and strong. The Schneider brewery was passed down through the family and is currently headed by Georg Schneider VI.

Schneider Weisse is still available today. It is light and golden, with wonderful notes of banana and clove, as is typical of the style, created from top-fermenting Bavarian yeast.

6) Yuengling Lager:

About six years after the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act effectively made substances like cocaine and heroin illegal, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which made it illegal to possess, produce, consume (and probably even look at) any form of alcohol that was greater that 0.5% ABV. A malted beverage with that alcohol content is considered ‘near-bear,’ and ‘not intoxicating’ (i.e.: O’Douls, etc).

America's Oldest Brewery

A tumultuous thirteen years would impress upon people the futility and dangers of prohibition. In late March, 1933, FDR signed an amendment to the prohibitive Volstead Act, called the Cullen-Harrison Act, which made light beers legal (3.2% alcohol by weight) – by this standard, many of the fine session ales we drink today (and one I’m brewing right now) would have been legal at this time. About seven months later, in early December, prohibition was repealed outright with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.

You do what you gotta do...

During prohibition, the Yuengling brewery had survived by making near-beer, ice cream, and apparently opening dance halls. To celebrate the repeal of the 18th Amendment, and to give thanks, Yuengling sent a truck-load of Winner Beer to FDR, which famously arrived on the day of repeal. This is especially interesting considering that it takes weeks to brew and age; was it less than 3.2% ABW? Who cares.

Enjoy America’s oldest operating brewery (a local one too!) with their flagship Lager. It is a light amber lager, with less overall sweetness than you might get from some Märzen’s or Vienna Lagers. It’s smooth, nicely bitter, with an herbal/spicy aroma typical of light German lagers.

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