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?

Your Monday Beer New Links For The Return To Office Work

It’s not like I dislike office work. It’s just that I like a week off in summer better. Drove too much.  About 2500 km all in all. Did home repairs and lawn stuff. Took trousers to the tailor. Visited a tiny new brewery. Yes, that one right there. I expect to post on the beers I dragged home hidden amongst the kids’ camp and cottage crap. What else went on this week?

Flying Dog Quits The Brewers Association

The recently Maryland-based brewery Flying Dog announced it had quit the Brewers Association and folk quickly took sides or at least thought a bit about which side they might take. Nothing better than when libertarians and progressives face off over something even though the both have a thing for tie-die shirts. The press release is pretty clear about what’s behind the move:

The BA’s new Marketing & Advertising Code is nothing more than a blatant attempt to bully and intimidate craft brewers into self-censorship and to only create labels that are acceptable to the management and directors of the BA. By contrast, Flying Dog believes that consumers are intelligent enough to decide for themselves what choices are right for them: What books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to, or beers to consume (and whether or not they like the labeling).

What’s really interesting about this is how it is tied in as part of the new optional (and seemingly stalled at about 20-25% buy-in) logo thing. And… freedom!!! Or just licence… or debauchery… or something co-opted. J. Notte summed it up this way on Sunday: “BA sees itself as a parent setting the rules, Flying Dog sees BA as a roommate who just set a fire in the living room.”  What I don’t understand was where the BA membership outreach and committee work was on the logo and the code of conduct? Was this all actually just imposed without any trial balloons? More to the point, will others quit, too?

The Economist Noticed Craft Beer!!!

I found this story entitled “Craft Beer in America Goes Flat” interesting, pretty cool in fact as The Economist isn’t this micro focused [Ed.: get it? An economics pun!!] usually but it gets to the point: “the number of brands has proliferated, the number of drinkers has not.” [Ed.: sweet attention to that verb structure, too.] It might have been a link for last week but the lack of chit chat about the story since it came out is interesting in itself. I am sure if we ever see a retraction in US craft beer we’ll have months and months and months of explanation of how it’s not a retraction from all the smart people with careers invested in the expansion of US craft beer.

Why Even Call It “Contract Brewing”?

Ben Johnson expanded on his article in Canada’s newspaper, The Old and Stale, with a blog post that unpacks the contract beer situation in a pretty clearheaded manner. Me? I take nothing from the argument that consumers don’t care given that labeling laws don’t require that anyone tell consumers that a beer is brewed somewhere that isn’t the little sweet Grannie’s cottage the branding would make you think… but the other arguments are pretty good.

Let’s be clear. The firm that brews the beer bought on a contract is a “contract brewer.” Other folk in the retail supply chain are maybe a “beer company.” Nothing wrong with being a beer company. Also, it obeys English as one who does not brew can’t also be brewing. Doubt me? Ask one of them to change the yeast strain to improve the batch. Oh, not allowed. By whom? Oh, the actual brewer.

And the Co-opting Of “Punk” Started A Decade Ago

Good to see, as reported by Matt C., a Sussex-based brewery Burning Sky… a wee actual-ish crafty brewery has back away from BrewDog’s weird insistence that they are somehow connected to “punk.” [Ed.: they are only getting that in 2017? It’s like your nerdy accountant cousin Ken who likes to pretend he gets that hop-hip all the kids are listening to.] Anyway, BrewDog is great at marketing, aiming to be wonderful at opening branch plants globally as well as a chain of bars and half their beers are even sorta OK. But, let’s be honest, it’s hardly craft anymore let alone punk. A fledgling lawyer and his pal, a very successful brewer, dreamed up a way to get rich through beer with a smidgen less – what? – less of something… than even Malcolm McLaren‘s relationship to the actual invention of punk. Tellingly, Matt could only find a managing director for the BrewDog bars division to get a quote from. Small. Traditional. That’s it. Keep in line. Punks do that. Keep. In. Line. And… err… something co-opted.

Other Things of Great Importance

Jeff Bell posted a lovely short vignette of an encounter on the streets of London with a man sharing his beer.

Tweet of the week? From Matthew Osgood who neatly summed up the irritation posed by craft beer evangelists who just won’t stop it what with their knocking at the door fun, pamphlets in hand:

…my issue is that I don’t need a six-beer tasting session every time I come over to watch a game.

Jeff Alworth was exploring what things were like ten and twenty years ago in his fair town of Portland, Oregon care of a tweet and one of his best posts ever. Recent history benefits as much from reliance on records as much as the far dimmer past I wallow about in.

Rebecca Pate reported on her visit to our mutual hometown, Halifax, where she had a Pete’s Super Donair and… visited 2 Crows. Which is interesting as “crows” was a slag in my years at our mutual undergrad college.

Is Andy Crouch the first beer writer to actually pay with his own money when visiting Asheville? Seems incongruous.

And last but certainly not least remember to follow Timely Tipple for the weekly brewing history links.

Some Words For Beer In The NY Times Over Time

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Interesting to see that “craft beer” is such a post-2007 term – and one that has never quote achieved the heights that “microbrewery” did in the late 90s. “Gourmet beer” never did nuttin’ for no one. Thank God. Glad to see “good beer” has the staying power that simplicity and accuracy assures. Play this game yourself.

My Wee Experimental Brewery

Not quite this much yeast…

I was going to call this another project but I think that might be a wee bit too much so “My Experimental Brewery” (or MEB) will have to do. I have home brewed in two periods of my life. In 1987 I visited the Pitfield Beer Shop that Knut visited in 2005 but which recently shut. I picked up some books, a few collapsible kegs and backpacked them back to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a stretch of kit brewing with my recently graduated pals. From 2000 to about 2003 I part-mashed about 100 gallons a year, mixing extract and a small mash. I was pretty good and used the best ingredients I could find. I also got a bit heavy…heavier…which has put me off brewing for a while.

But recent comments here plus thinking more about beer and culture plus a colleague with an interest in brewing got me thinking – including thinking about about all that excellent yeast I have been pouring down the drain as I rinse out the bottles for the recycling bin. I’ve probably tossed back or poured down the best part of a half litre of saison yeast in the last year and another of top barley wine leavings. That can all be farmed, reused and renewed. And half the magic is in that yeast as we all know. So I put together the makings of a semi-demi-pico brewery and plan to make tiny ten litre batches of all-grain brews. Maybe a pumpkin porter with Fantôme yeast from Belgium. Maybe an imperial Scots heavy with the mixed yeasts of dubbels and Traquair to help give comfort to a few of we Scots who never got to have that empire. Maybe I will pull down that book by Tayleur that I picked up in 1987 and make something out of what I grow this summer in the garden.

So what would you make if you could make just five six-packs at a time?

C’est What, Toronto, Ontario

cest5I was in Toronto for a few days this week and was able to stop by a brewpub called C’est What. I have some notes to add later after I dig through my stuff but wanted to get these pictures up.

cest7The Next Day: I appear to have sprayed my things with notes-be-gone so I’ll do this from memory. I tried two of their own ales with my Porter Beef Ribs and like both a lot. The first was the redundantly named Brown Mild Ale. While it is true there is a style of that is a light coloured mild, it is rare enough that it is an exception to the general principle that mild is brown. At 3.3%, it is the right strength for a session of supping. The beer menu said it was nitro dispensed meaning instead of being pushed by the normal CO2 there is a measure of nitrogen added. This is the same idea behind cask flow ale in a can that leaves a tiny fine head. With this real ale, it works very well giving a creamy head that incorporates many of the flavours of the yeast. The beer was creamy with chocolate and walnut flavours. The hops were subdued giving a bit of structure to the finish. Very nice.

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At the heart of the ale there is fresh clean water, exactly right for the style. This beer alone would bring me back to this pub. It is a beer that every brew pub should offer, that and/or ordinary bitter, a low alcohol version of a hopped light ale. My only complaint is that it costs the same as the other stronger ales. As 60% of the ingredients go in, ther should be some accomodation in the final cost I pay. That being said, $5.18 CND for a quality real ale pint is a good price.

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The second ale I tried was their hemp ale. This is a favorite of mine whenever I have had it, the hemp replacing or adding to the hop effect. Depending on the amount and selection of hooping, the tastes can be quite different. In this version, it is basically a basic best bitter of 4.5% to 5.0% in terms of mouthfeel which has a layer of sweet green vegetableness added to it. And the green tastes like…fresh broad beans. Should gross but it is not. Quite good with the ribs. cest3The ribs themselves were worth attending again, though the were a smidge underdone for my liking. Meat should fall off ribs and the inner tissue should have essentially melted away. There was a bit too much of a gnaw to the meal but in terms of flavour and texture it was spot on. Served with a spring salad overly drenched in dressing and tastey fine cut herbed french fries. You can order extra ribs and I did, hence the Freddie Flinstone pile on the plate.

This is the second time I have been to C’est What and each time I think there is something less manic about brewing that I would think normal. Less brewiana-esque than most and a little cool or, better, laid back. But I suppose that is the market they are playing to. Odd to see errors like the menu saying Black Sheep Ale is from Scotland when it is from Yorkshire. Nerds usually do not get that wrong. That being said, the quality of the beers – especially in terms of the yeast selection – is as good as I have every tried.

The Stash Renewed

While in Syracuse NY for a couple of days, a brief side trip this morning to the Galeville Grocery sees the stash now renewed for another month or two. As a result, I have stories to write about Middles Ages, Mendocino of Saragota, Magic Hat, plus two new to try from each of Youngs, Ommegang and Weyerbacher (their imperial stout and imperial pumpkin ale) as well as a bunch of singles including Stoudts ESB.

The night before found me at Clark’s Ale House and its neighbour the Blue Tusk. I didn’t take notes or photos taking the time to just enjoy these two great bars and introducing them to pals. Both institutions handle the beers fantastically, coaxing hidden flavours out with their cleanliness and care. I had my first taste of Lake Placid’s keg only brown ale last night at Clark’s – very pleasant nut brown with what I thought was an interesting subtle spiciness in either the hop or yeast selection. At the Blue Tusk I settled into an extended relationship with Dogfish Head 60 Minute Ale, the intermediary between their Shelter Pale Ale and 90 Minute IPA which sits in what I now think of as my happy place. There are snugs at the Blue Tusk, those little rooms off rooms that give you a quieter spot, time to talk and listen. The one farthest from the bar sits eight in benches like slightly reclined pews.

St. Veronus, Peterborough, Ontario

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So we went to Peterborough yesterday to see old friends and we had lunch at St. Veronus, a cafe/bar with a subtitle: “Belgian beer temple”…truer stv1words were never writ. We are now looking for jobs in the Peterborough area.  Unaccustomed to great selection, great service, reasonable prices, care and attention to interesting beer and fantastic food selection am I in a Canadian beer spot that I kept mentally making US exchange rate calculations as I browsed the menu and the beer lists. Then I would shake my head and say…this place is actually in Ontario…and Ontario is in Canada.

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I was overwhelmed at the outset when I realized what lay before me. I did not know what to order for a first drink so I just wandered around the two room cafe taking pictures. I mentioned the fact of this here website and, without shifting into a higher gear of service in any respect, the extremely helpful staff answered any number of my deer-in-headlight questions. They even allowed themselves to engage in a little beer porn for the camera as illustrated below. I settled on a Rochefort 6, a new beer to me. At 7.5% it was off their “new arrivals” short list. It was heaven. From recollection malty, a tad burlappy with even a little chocolate perhaps. Others had various lambics and Gueze as well as a very nice Barbar honey ale which I got to sip. Loverly. Just look at the bar fridge – now that’s real shock and awe.

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Despite the excellent price and variety of the beer, however, it was the food that actually made the visit. St Veronus offers a selection of grilled thick sandwiches with thoughtful ingredients that match the beers very well. The best I thought was the cheddar, slow cooked onion goo and slow cooked apple goo sandwich – it has an other better name but whatever it is called it was scoffed down by a seven year old in mucho haste. For my second sip, I had a local micro, Church-key Northumberland Ale. I did not get a six of that when I visited the brewery last winter but I will next time I go. It was a full malt-fruit forward rich pale ale under what must be the best beer handling conditions I have met in Ontario. And only 4.50 CND for a 500 ml pint.

Definitely a first of many visits.

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Three More US Pale Ales

A Sunday afternoon on a balcony overlooking the St.Lawrence and Lake Ontario and these three fine examples of American brewing. On the radio, the Yankees and Red Sox in the rubber game of the weekend’s series. Perfection.

Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale: From Delaware. I picked up a few of this ale last weekend in Syracuse and am glad I did. It poured white foam over fairly still orangey amber ale with a relatively soft mouthfeel. The hops are not overwhelming with their green profile. The beer is minerally even salty. There is lots of toasty bread crust graininess to the malt. Also, a sort of shadow of unsweetened chocolate lingers – maybe not from the use of chocolate malt so much as the combination of pale malt fruit, bitter hops and a modest but rish yeast strain. The finish is dry with a little white pepper heat. A very well balanced pale ale that satisfied even though it is not juicey moreish.

Stoudt’s American Pale Ale: From Pennsylvania. A rocky half-inch of white head resovles to foam and rim leaving lace. The ale is deep golden straw. Its aroma is floral as is the first sip. It is a far hoppier take on the pale ale compared to the Shelter Pale Ale. Again, it is minerally with green weediness to the floral hops. The strength of the hops overwhelms the pale malt, exposed and lightly braced as it is by a small addition of crystal malt. There is some toffee but less than you would expect from an English pale ale or a US IPA. The finish has some pear juiciness and accordingly a bit of moreishness. If this were any other brewer this might be their IPA but given Stoudt’s dedication to the big as well as their Double IPA this is a relative pip squeek.

Stone IPA: From California. Again a similar white rim over orangey amber ale, though lighter on the red notes, halfway to deep golden straw. Similar to the Stoudts but softer with less weedy green in the hops, more grapefruit rind and green herb. They are chewy without being bombastic – as Stone
can well be. A bit hot in the mddle, it has less of the salty mineral feel of the Stoudts. The yeast is creamy but quite subdued, just a rich note behind it all. Really nice if you like a hoppy ale and perfect with ballpark peanuts in the shell for the game – even if the Yanks beat the Sox 1-0.

 

 

The Stash

The results of a trip south are often a slowly decreasing but merry little stash of singles in the closet and the fridge for the best part of a month as reviews get written. Sweet 1978 Rawlings, too. I am pretty sure I have only had two of the bottles previously, the McEwans Export and the Smuttynose Hefe. The future is unknown and that is great. I see about new brewery reviews including those nine new bottles for me from Middle Ages, three from Wolavers, four from Southern Tier as well as a couple of new Wittes and my first Mackeson’s XXX stout.

One other pick-up at FLBC was a variety 12-pack of Great Divide ales from Denver Colorado which has obeyed my two rules for variety twelve packs: give me four types, three bottles each, and no lager. If you like lager you likely won’t like an ESB or IPA and if you like those the lager is likely just a waste of space. Saranac makes a largely lager 6×2 pack which is quite legitimate…though I don’t think I would buy one with great anticipation.

Red’s Dairy Freeze, South Portland, Maine

Illustrated is the “Chocolate Boston”, which is a chocolate milkshake with chocolate soft serve ice cream topped with chocolate sauce. The “Boston” can be had with other flavours but it is always milkshake plus soft serve plus sauce. Eaten with a spoon and a straw, it is apparently known only to Red’s of South Portland and their customers but we stand to be corrected.

I do not love chocolate but this actually inched me a little towards that affliction. I ate it so fast I got an ice cream chest ache.