Tales From The Crypt Of Early Micro

I am working on a relatively new database to me, a newspaper and magazine archive covering a little over the last thirty years. Grinding common beer words through the search engine of any new database is always fun but in the shadowy world of the recent past it can also be surprising. I don’t actually write all that much about the origins of of the micro brewing industry but, as we know, the shifting sands and rearguard revisionist retelling of all the genesis stories should be enough motivation for anyone. And it turns out there are interesting tales to be told from the point in time when “micro” was battling with “mini” and recently deceased “craft” was just a gleam in some PR committee’s eye.

First, set the scene. In Albany, New York’s Times Union of 16 July 1986 we have the staff byline story “Abrams Sues Big Breweries” – this particular Abrams being New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams:

The state attorney general filed an anti-trust suit in federal court Tuesday charging the four major beer breweries and their distributors have virtually suffocated competition and created unnaturally high 6-pack prices. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn names Anheuser-Busch Inc., Miller Brewing Co., G. Heileman Brewing Co. Inc. and the Stroh Brewery Co. breweries and the New York State Beer Wholesalers Association, which he charged control 80 percent of the New York state beer market. The four companies distribute almost every big-name beer in New York, including Budweiser, Michelob, Miller, Schlitz, Schaefer, Colt 45 and Schmidt.

The story states that the lawsuit, which charged distributor and breweries were engaged in an actual conspiracy to control the beer market prices. The interesting thing is that this is the sort of thing that big craft suggests it triggered but this story is effectively pre-micro.

In another tale from that same month we read, again in the Times Union, a story of accusation. In the 7 July 1986 edition, we can find the headline “Boston Beer Seller Claims 3 European Imports Impure” which is pretty funny given there have been false and well proven accusations about competition in the brewing industry since, well, pretty much since beer was invented. The story by Bart Ziefler of the Associated Press starts in this way:

A tiny Boston beer company is taking on two giant international brewers, claiming the top European imported beers couldn’t be sold in West Germany because they don’t meet that nation’s beer purity law. In a series of radio and newspaper ads, Boston Beer Co. has challenged the the quality of the Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and Heineken beers sold in this country. Beck and Co. of Bremen, West Germany, which brews Beck’s and export- only St. Pauli Girl, denies the claim. Netherlands-based Heineken, brewer of the No. 1 import, acknowledged that its contains corn and they don’t try to sell it in West Germany, according to the Boston Business Journal. “It’s sort of common knowledge among brewers that the beers are doctored,” said James Koch, whose company began selling Samuel Adams beer a little more than a year ago. “If you’re going to bring beer from that far away and have it drinkable, you’ve got to do something to stabilize it.”

Really? Corn as the crisis in craft? Excellent. Can’t we just admit we like corn sometimes? Is this PR campaign where the phobia related to the one ingredient “whose name may not be spake” came from? Sweet last line in which Koch states that he said he hoped to make Sam Adams truly a Boston beer next year by opening his own brewery. Correct me if I am wrong but, according to wiki wisdom, the brewery wasn’t bought for another eleven years and it was located in Cincinnati.

The Buffalo News of 8 November 1991 included a particularly excellent “state of the nation” report by Dale Anderson from the 1991 Microbrewers & Pubbrewers Conference at the Hyatt Regency in that fair City… two months before, in September. Under the lengthy headline “A Little Beer – Microbreweries, Producing Specialty Beers in Small Quantities Are The Talk Of The Industry” we learn a lot of things… and not just that there was the term “pubbbrewers”:

1. “Two American breweries — Sierra Nevada in California and Red Hook in Washington — actually have outgrown the “micro” designation.”
2. “The biggest concentration of brew-pubs on the continent, meanwhile, is in nearby Ontario, where there are about two dozen in the Toronto area alone.”
3. “These small-scale operations have little effect on the big brewers… Instead, they have moved in on the imported specialty brands.”
4. “One reason Queen City chose to brew at Lion is that it could put foil wrapping on the necks of the bottles and other breweries couldn’t. “We sat back and said we didn’t want to run a microbrewery with a pub attached,” Smith says, “so we followed the path of Jim Koch with Samuel Adams in Boston. The tough part is predicting four or five weeks ahead of time what we’re going to need.”

You can click on the article for more but it is interesting that the acknowledgement of out-growing the category as well as contract brewing was so openly stated and presented simply as a sign of success.

Less familiar perhaps than the other stories is the weird 2002 tale of the “Sex For Sam” sponsored by Samuel Adams Beer in which “prizes were awarded to people who had sex in unlikely public places.” Unlike the many references to Mr. Koch the Ascendant in the media of the time, this is not one that weathers the passage of time so well. In the New York Post of 7 November 2003,  William J. Gorta and Bill Hoffmann reported the story a year later after events in question – when the resulting criminal processes were concluded:

The Virginia woman who scandalized St. Patrick’s Cathedral by having sex in the pews as part of a sleazy radio stunt that revolted the city will not go to jail. Loretta Lynn Harper, 36, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service as part of a plea deal in which she admitted to disorderly conduct. Prosecutors took pity on Harper because her boyfriend, 38-year-old Brian Florence – her sex partner in the church tryst – died suddenly of heart failure last month.

Turns out the great idea was a joint project between Boston Beer and the soon to be fired WNEW-FM shock jocks Opie and Anthony. An FCC fine of $357,000 was levied against the radio station. The final two lines of the story is classic:

WNEW had no comment on the sentencing. A rep for Opie and Anthony and Sam Adams President Jim Koch did not return calls.

Wise. But a little more detail is provided in a gossip column in the New York Daily News of 29 August 29, 2002 which I provide in full for reasons of review of the delightful manner in which the gossipy tidbit was framed:

Opie and Anthony had a beer buddy rooting them on in the studio while they encouraged the St. Patrick’s Cathedral sex stunt that got them canned. Jim Koch, the head of Boston Beer Co., admitted he was on hand during the taping and issued an apology on the company’s Web site Monday. “We at the Boston Beer Co. formally apologize to all those upset or offended by the incident on the Opie and Anthony show and by our association with it,” wrote Koch. His company backed the show’s “Sex for Sam” contest, which promoted a trip to Boston to the company’s annual festival for couples who had public sex. The Samuel Adams brewer even called Lou Giovino, the Catholic League’s director of communications, to apologize. “I spoke with him twice since Monday,” Giovino told us, “And we’re satisfied with his apology.” But Giovino didn’t seem content when we told him he could listen to Koch’s studio hooting on the Smoking Gun’s Web site. “Oh, boy,” he sighed.

The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there. “Oh boy,” indeed.

One last tale. A little less… ripe and perhaps more in tune with where the future was actually going. In the 2 November 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine, there was a short piece headlined “Hobbies – It’s Beer O’Clock” in the regular Cyberscope column authored by Brad Stone and Jennifer Tanaka.

Seems like it’s hardly ever Miller time anymore. Now that America has developed a taste for microbrewed beer, The Real Beer Page (http:realbeer.com) should find a natural audience. It’s a one-stop destination for dozens of links to microbrewery home pages, beer Web zines and a database of brew pubs with a search engine to help you find one in your neighborhood. Cheers.

Dozens! Imagine. Particularly sweet is the note that the caption to an accompanying image was “Suds on the Menu” because no one loves an early web pun more than me. I also like the reference to “beer Web zines” which what I really should have called this place – A Good Beer Web Zine. Where are my Hammer Pants?

Fascists, Racists, Pinkos, Brewers And…

Not much inclined to write for the last week or so. Late 1970s nuclear fear retro followed quickly by 1930s Nazi fear retro. Seems our neighbours to the south hired a moron and he is turning out to be a fabulous moron attracting other morons to flit about his flame. Like last summer, one barely knows what to reach for but, perhaps unlike last summer, one knows one might need to. What to do in these troubled times? Perhaps explore how fascism, communism and racism (perhaps bundled as “totalitarian supremacism“?) has been known to brewing over time? Let’s see.

Earlier this year, Hungary witnessed a bit of a political controversy over the appearance of Heineken’s red star – which Hungarian law considers a totalitarian symbol. As might have been expected, it was apparently as much as anything about contemporary politics and the time-honoured role brewing money plays in that game.

Totes Supps can also show up in more unexpected ways. In 2016, a brewery in Bavaria was accused of offering a Nazi friendly lager named Grenzzaun Halbe, or Border Fence Half. Priced at 88 euro cents a bottle, it was considered code for HH or Heil Hitler. The brewer in the usual way explained “insisted the name and slogan were not directed against migrants, but referred to defending Bavarian culture“* but, oddly, also said they had lent resources to the refugee influx.

Then there are the old boys who, you know, just say those sorts of things. Yesterday, Jason Notte provided a bit of a walk down memory lane offering the legacy of US brewing mogul Bill Coors who was apparently quoted in 1984 for providing such comments as “…one of the best things they did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains…” and “…they lack the intellectual capacity to succeed, and it’s taking them down the tubes” though the resulting libel suit against a newspaper that had the gall to report his words was dropped. The old git is still with us apparently, turning 101 the other day. Other similar substantial claims were made against the brewery in those days. Interesting, then, that three years later this was an opinion reported by the Syracuse Herald-Journal of February 10, 1987 just when Coors was entering the CNY market:

“When you buy their product you are, in effect, inviting the Coors people into your home,” said Joseph Welch, executive secretary of the Greater Syracuse Labor Council. “I think anyone with a conscience wouldn’t want those kind of people in their homes.”**

But these brewers can also be ingrained into the movement. If we go back a bit further, one can look at what brewers did during the time when fascists were actually in the ascent. To the right is a very handy graph with the somewhat vague title “Birra Peroni’s strategic response to institutional pressure” from the 2016 book Accounting and Food: Some Italian Experiences by Sargiacomo, D’Amico and Di Pietra. I say vague given it illustrates, in part, this business decision from 1926 to the regime’s fall:

…the Fascist government tried to control production and balance demand and supply by controlling the supply side…. In this context, the company’s strategic response may be viewed as a compromise. Giacomo Peroni, former president of the earlier Unione Italiana Fabbricanti di Birra (Italian Brewers’ Union) was put at the helm of the new association. As the managers of the new association, Giacomo could act as an institutional entrepreneur and therefore bend the institutional change to his own and his company’s interests. In fact, despite the need to reduce the company’s production volume as imposed by the Fascist government, in his role Giacomo Peroni managed to avoid such cuts and toss them off on his competitors. This is suggested by the fact that it was precisely in those years that the company increased its production volume and sales. 

Suggested?*** Hmm… Apparently, Peroni also fed demand from what are described as the “new African colonies” aka the invasion of Ethiopia. Nothing like a captive audience. Note: Peroni continues as a brand now owned by Japanese brewer Asahi, achieving apparently some recent success.

And we do also recall that the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch did lead to the army being called out, an arrest, a trial and a five year term. Well, then someone gave Hitler a pen in jail and he wrote down his evil which was shared after an early release.

What does all this prove? Well, as you can see in the footnotes, we can laugh at it. We can also support the democratic processes that stand against it. But that totalitarian supremacist is going to keep popping up. No point in pretending, offering a beer and dreaming that people are good. Some people are very bad. Having lived though an number of genocides at the youthful age of 54 – from Cambodia to the Balkans – I don’t expect that evil to change. But if we understand that it is an insidiously corrosive, inveigling tendency we should be aware that it needs being watched out for and given proper response.

*See here for more.
**See here for more.
***See here for more.

 

Half Hours On Earth, Seaforth, Ontario

I’d like to say that I visited Half Hours on Earth a few weeks ago but it was more like a drive-by shooting. Except I was only shooting with the iPad camera. See, it was summer and the kids at camps and cottages on the Lake Huron shore. My only job that week off was to get them there one weekend and get them back on the next one. Thirty-two hours of driving all in all. I needed some joy and a stop like this on a long haul is just the thing I needed. But I only had 12 minutes so I was in and out after asking 57 questions and coming across as a weirdo. I am used to me so it was fine.

 

 

 

 

Seaforth is a small crossroads ag supply town in south western Ontario that looks like a lot of the other small crossroads ag supply towns in south western Ontario that I married into. Lovely orange and tan brick houses and main street buildings. Gingerbread gothic revival churches sitting prominently on a grid of squares drawn on a map in the 1830s, long before the people arrived. All cooled by the shade of large hardwoods planted over 100 years ago – or maybe a dip in the river when it’s a hot one. The whine of cicadas interrupted by blizzards on an annual cycle. Alice Munro country filled with quiet towns laced with the quietly unhappy but satisfied enough. It’s not where you would think you would find great beer but a few weeks back Robin and Jordan declared it the best new brewery in the province and I went all in. I found the brewery and its two owner operators in the lower level of a grain depot by a rail siding. Here is what I thought.

Green Mind: The name is like a Third Doctor serial. Except it needs to have “of Doom” added at the end. I bought a quart jug, aka a small growlers. It provided me with a great follow up to a GLB Canuck and a Friday evening mow of the lawn. At heftier 7.1% its the biggest of the beers I bought, surprising similar but also the senior to the province’s favourite craft beer. Not a sour bomb so much as a weedy raggedy-arsed maybe even pissed-off IPA.  Pale malt sweet base under bitter greens. The lavender brett fitting beneath the lush ditch weed bitter herb hop. Remember. I just mowed the lawn. A bit of Chinese mustard green burn. Not really arugula black pepper bitter but green and sharp like a salad full of salad greens you never heard of. Quaffable. I quaffed. Rounded by the wood not a hint of any cheesy Chardonnay oak. Robust but not heavy. Extremely satisfying dry stinging nettle note in the finish. Cloudy but not milky, mustard – tan coloured ale under a rich clingy fine whipped egg white head. Sweet cream and herbs on the nose portending the unexpected. A thinking person’s ale. Or at least a person having a good think after mowing the lawn on a Friday. Lovely.

Jez: 5.6% rosehip rosemary farmhouse. Herbal lemonade on the nose. Smell like the sorbet/sherbet I want in my life. Cloudy dark lemon ale under rich white whipped head. Dry yet moderately full. Plenty of bright acid, lemon juice, rose hip giving both a bit of body and a seam of earthy slightly sweet must. Very attractive, vinous. Citrus rise at the start, lime and white grapefruit pith. Deftly confident if not bold. Could have been overbearing if a few element had gone astray. Could poach cod in this. With baby leeks and smashed new spuds. I came back to this one. As I thought about this beer, I agreed with myself about how brilliant the use of rose hip was.  Earthy but not mushroomed.

Corrigan: I believe I learned that this was the same 5.6% base beer as the Jez but with coriander and lemongrass. The lack of the earthy non-mushroom tone makes a great difference. This is all bright and light. The piccolo of citrus notes with a relatively slight herbal presence compared to Jez. The lemongrass adds green hues to the middlest middle where another brewer this summer or last might have placed cucumber. Very attractive…. again. The bretty lavender effect frames deftly. Did I use deft again, too? Sure did. A very much quieter sour beer but well worth leaning in a bit and paying proper attention.

Mingus Dew: I bought a full growler, a pottle to those who know. Quarts and pottles. Can’t we just call them that? This pottles-worth was drained in the backyard of the in-laws who were away out east on holiday. We were feeding grapes to the unwelcome rabbit who had set up shop, eating all their garden plants. Rather cheeky. It was the perfect antidote to a stinking hot day in a quiet town, another southwestern Ontario ag supply town. At just 3.8%, a dry hop table sour that offers no dangers, just promises. And opportunities. Dry citrus tang on the nose. Slightly clouded light golden ale under a rich rocky lace leaving head. I should pull the two emergency bottles of that Girardin with the black label out of the residual stash to see how they might compare. This is lovely. Yes, simple lemon but, as with GBL, there is that measured cream backbone from the light malt.

Pod Six: Last but not least. Again, I believe this is the same 3.8% base beer as Mingus Dew with sea salt rather than dry hopping. Side by side, very interesting. The most obvious difference is how the salt adds a slight coating to the lips. Next, it slightly takes the edge off the acid. It might contribute to a more restrained aroma. What, after all, is the smell of salt? A miner might know. The choice of sea salt is interesting as just down the road is Ontario’s salt supply at Goderich. I want to fill a jug with this beer and mild garden herbs. Parsley. Chervil.

We actually chatted a bit. Not what you would call an interview or anything. The kids were in the car. With the AC on. You can read the newspapers for that sort of information. Owners Kristen Harburn and Kyle Teichert grew up in the area. People I know probably know people they know or at least were at the same buck and doe. I asked how it was they got into sours and told me of trips to Buffalo to find Belgian sours, the empties of which were on display. I pointed at a few with strong memories for me, especially Brise-BonBons from Fantome which introduced me to hoppy and sour ten years ago. These beers are the the love child of that.

They ship their beers. You can order them and they stick them in the mail. I will do that. Likely today. After all, I am just about out. If I think of the thrill I had in the fall of 2007 finding myself in Dexter, Michigan getting an hour of Ron Jefferies’ time at the end of a busy week and then getting a case of quarts (and a woolly winter hat) to take away at $5.99 a bottle, the idea of getting beer this fine delivered to my door has a Jetsons’ tone to it here in Ontario the monopolistic. I like this future.

When Steam Was King… It Was Common

Two years ago – well, 23 months ago, I wrote a brief passing thing about the concept of “steam” beer in a post about another thing, cream ale, but given this week’s sale of Anchor, makers of steam beer who proudly proclaim they are San Francisco Craft brewers since 1896,  to an evil dark star in the evil dark galaxy of international globalist beverage corporations, I thought it worth repeating and expanding slightly. Here is what I wrote:

Adjectives from another time. How irritating. I mentioned this the other day somewhere folk were discussing steam beer. One theory of the meaning is it’s a reference to the vapor from opening the bottle. Another says something else. Me, I think it’s the trendy word of the year of some point in the latter half of the 1800s. Don’t believe me? Just as there were steam trains and steamships, there were steam publishers. In 1870 there was a steam printer in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A steam printer was progress. Steam for a while there just meant “technologically advanced” or “the latest thing” in the Gilded Age. So steam beer is just neato beer. At a point in time. In a place. And the name stuck. That’s my theory.

And here is what I would like to add. To the right is a news item from the Albany Gazette of 10 March 1814. As I have looked around records from the 18o0s for example of the use of “steam” I describe above, I found this one describing a steam battery both early and entertaining. I assumed on first glance that this was some sort of power storage system. In fact it is for a barge loaded with cannon. 32 pounder cannon which are rather large cannon indeed. Well, all cannon are large if they are pointed at you I suppose but in this case they are significant. For the nationalist vexiologists amongst you, I can confirm that the proposed autonomously propelled barge system of cannon delivery was reported six months before the Battle of Baltimore. Were they part of the sea fencibles? Suffice it to say, as with steam publishing and steam train engines you had steam based warfare by battle barge.

Next – and again to the right – is a notice placed in the New York Herald on 11 September 1859 indicating that John Colgan was selling three grades of ale and perhaps three grades of porter after “having made arrangements with W.A. Livingston, proprietor of steam brewery…” This appears to be an example of contract brewing where Livingston owns the brewery and contract brews for the beer vendor, Colgan. Aside from that, it is a steam brewery. Livingston’s operation was listed in the 1860 Trow’s New York City Directory along with a number of other familiar great regional names in brewing such as Vassar, Taylor and Ballantine. And it lists over two pages a total of four steam breweries, including Livingston’s. Which makes it a common form of industry marketing.

“Steam” is quite venerable as a descriptor of technology. If you squint very closely at this full page of the Albany Register from 29 January 1798 you will see steam-jacks for sale. It is also a term that moved internationally. In the New York Herald for 15 September 1882, you see two German breweries named as steam breweries. And again in the Herald, in the 10 August 1880 edition to the right, we see the sale of the weiss brewery at 48 Ludlow Street details of which included a “steam Beer Kettle” amongst other things. One last one. An odd one. If you look at this notice from the Herald from 14 June 1894 you will see a help wanted ad seeking a “young man to bottle and steam beer.” Curious.

What does any of it mean? Well, steam beer and common might have a lot more to do with each other than the just the name of a style.