beer, History

Wisconsin: Live like you mean it

There was in the United States, in the beer age, no more delightful a city than Milwaukee in which to spend a day, a year or a life.1

By the time Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, it was already well on its way to becoming a major brewing center. Eight years prior to statehood, the Lake Brewery in Milwaukee began brewing traditional English ales and porters. While these styles were well loved among the English, their sweet taste and murky color were not what the German’s called beer. Within a year, the Germans would get their beer, when a German immigrant named Reuthlisberger founded the lager beer industry in Milwaukee, setting the course of the city for years to come.

The Germans brought with them their love of relaxation, beer and talk.1

Around 1844, the first big wave of German immigrants started migrating to the United States, with many of them settling in region that would become Wisconsin. One of the newly transplanted was Jacob Best. Prior to coming across the Atlantic, Jacob ran a small brewery in Germany, so when he arrived in Wisconsin, he picked up right where he left off by founding the Empire Brewery which later became the Pabst Brewing Company. Quickly, other beer barons with names like Schlitz and Blatz also set up shop brewing lager, making the city Milwaukee synonymous with the word beer.

Pour beer out upon a locality and it won’t be long till the ground is dotted with gardens. They will grow and bloom so long as the beer continues to nourish them.1

Along with the their love of lager, the German immigrants also brought another facet of home with them, the beer garden, a gathering place for all.  One of the most famous beer gardens not only in Milwaukee, but in the entire United States at one point in time, was the Schlitz Palm Garden. Opened in 1896, The Schlitz Garden, built when “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous” was sweeping the land, quickly became a major tourist attraction for the city, including a visit from Woodrow Wilson on his first presidential nomination campaign.

Beer and wine make for conversation. There is in liquors of mild alcoholic persuasion that which quickens the flow of the thoughts in a man’s cranium, loosens a notch the belt about his reticence and releases upon his tongue the fruits of his meditations1

While the German’s were busying putting their own mark on Milwaukee with the introduction of lager beer and beer gardens, there was a steadily growing temperance movement sweeping across the U.S., and within Wisconsin, that would bring about another, much resisted, change to the city.

Wisconsin to the average American unacquainted with actual conditions therein, is commonly regarded as a Gibraltar of the wets — sort of a Utopia where everybody drinks their fill and John Barlycorn still holds forth in splendor2

Prohibition in the United States lasted from 1920 to 1933 with some areas embracing it more than others. Wisconsin was not one of the more embracing states. In 1931, just two years shy of the 21st Amendment, The Treasury Department conducted a survey of Prohibition enforcement in the state of Wisconsin and found that a majority of the state was doing little to uphold the federal law. In most instances, the enforcement of Prohibition was just theater as indicated by this paragraph in the report: The writer attended police court in Superior and observed the daily collection therein from proprietors of such establishments. The line formed on the right. The violator stepped up to the judge, was asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty to the sale of intoxicating liquor in his particular soft-drink establishment. Before the judge had finished with the above question, the proprietor in each case would reach into his pocket, extract therefrom a roll of bills, plead guilty, and place $200 on the desk. This is the standard penalty for liquor transgressions in the city of Superior.2

However, even with flagrant disregard of the law in many parts of the state, Prohibition still made its mark. Just one year into Prohibition, the Schlitz Garden closed, ending a 25 year run of the most successful beer garden in the United States.

Once prohibition ended, the major players bounced back and regained their foothold,  quickly regaining their leading positions of producers of beer in the country. While Wisconsin was once the home to many major national breweries, things appear to be different these days, as we were only able to get our hands on one craft brewery here in Massachusetts for this weeks tasting: Lakefront Brewery.

From Lakefront Brewery, we tried 5 different styles.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Wisconsin Craft Beer

We opened the Fixed Gear, an American Red Ale, to start the evening.

Brewed in Milwaukee for people who like beer

This beer had a deep red color when poured in the glass. The taste was caramel, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Nothing off putting at all. This beer won two awards, The Regional Champion at the Winter U.S. Beer Tasting Championship and the Silver Medal at the Los Angels International Commercial Beer Competition, and I am not surprised. This was a nice, solid beer and I would drink it again.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Lakefront Brewery Wisonsinite

After the Fixed Gear, we opened the Wisconsinite, a summer Weiss. The concept of this beer, brewed with 100 percent Wisconsin grown ingredients intrigued me. This is an idea I have always been curious about, can a beer have a sense of place? Do the locally grown ingredients give the beer a regional taste that can not be reproduced when using the same ingredients in a different area. In wine and coffee, this is referred to as terroir, and the debate still carries on about terroir in beer.

In the glass, this beer was a light golden color. The aroma had a slight banana characteristic, which is expected in a hefeweizen. The aroma stems from the yeast used to brew the beer which produces the same esters found in bananas.

When drank, this beer didn’t really have anything that made it standout. No flavors jumped out at me, and I was left wanting of a description. This beer reminded me of a session beer, and with its 4.4 ABV, it meets the criteria. While not a bad beer, it was just not loaded with the flavors that we have often encountered over the past year, but as a session beer, I could handle a few of these.

Our next beer was the Cream City Pale Ale. Milwaukee is nicknamed the Cream City for the cream colored bricks used as a common building material in the area. The color of this beer was golden honey (not cream!), and the beer had a slightly bitter aftertaste. Other than that, there were no other descriptives I could come up with for this beer.

Finishing up the Cream City, we moved to the IPA and followed that with the IBA.

Wisconsin Craft Beer

Lakefront IPA

The IPA, while not emitting much of a smell, had that nice, enjoyable bitter taste expected in an IPA. I felt the carbonation of this beer overpowered the ability to get any aroma from it, otherwise, this was a typical, good IPA.

The IBA (Black IPA) was a nice, roasted dark color and wasn’t as bitter as the IPA. With its roasted tastes and bitter hops, this was my favorite beer of the night.

In the end, I enjoyed the Fixed Gear and the IBA the best. The others were fine, but they seemed lacking in character and didn’t have the uniqueness that some of the beers we have encountered on this journey have exhibited. Overall, another successful week was had putting us at 136 beers from 30 states in 30 weeks.

Next week, California. Thanks for reading.

1 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1270
2 http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/tp/id/48320

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beer, History

Texas : It’s Like a Whole Other Country

He likes beer
He likes Texas
He likes Texas beer

Redneck Mother
Ray Wylie Hubbard

In 1837, the Republic of Texas made its first attempt at statehood, and after several failed attempts, it finally succeeded in 1845, making Texas the 28th state of the United States.

Sixty four years later, a group of German and Czech businessmen hired brewmaster Herman Weiss, and with that, the Spoetzl Brewery, home to Shiner beer, Texas’ oldest brewery was born.

Shiner is a Texas legend. There are coffee table books about it, movie placements, and even mentions in Breaking Bad. But the reference that seems to occur most often is in lyrics, where it holds yet another legendary status. In 2012, Georgia country artist Jason Aldean signed a promotional deal with Coors which resulted in his changing of a song lyric from grab a little Shiner Bock to grab a couple Rocky Tops.

2 6 packs of Shiner
99 cent butane lighter
Lucky Strikes and a fifth of Patrón
Ice down that Igloo cooler
Tank of gas that oughta do her
I can feel a good one coming on

Good One Comin’ On
Blackberry Smoke

Texas musicians have always liked to sing about their beer. In fact, the Spotzel brewery sponsored its own band, the Shiner Hobo Band, with the band getting paid 1 keg per performance. In 1947, Bob Willis and his Texas Playboys first recorded the song Bubbles in My Beer which was performed by many Texas musicians, including George Jones and Willie Nelson.

On his Live In Aught-Three album, Texas musician James McMurtry starts No More Buffalo with “…I used to think I was an artist. Come to find out I’m a beer salesman.”  Understanding that the link between musician’s and beer is strong, Shiner has been a long supporter of the Texas music scene and still sponsors a music festival (albeit it is in Colorado, not in Texas.)

Today, we skipped the Patrón and went with our 1 six pack of Shiner, the family pack, and to show off some other beer from the state, we also grabbed some Buried Hatchet Stout from Southern Star Brewing Company.

My first experiences with Shiner were on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. On two different trips there, I had a nice portion of Shiner Bock. Finding Texas beer in New England is hit or miss. More on the miss side for me, so during the planning stages, I brought back a six pack of Shiner Family Reunion from Alabama.

Texas craft beer

Shiner Family Reunion

This six pack contained one each of: Bock, Black Lager, Kosmos, Blonde, Hefewiezen, and Brewers Pride selection. We started the tasting with the Brewers Pride selection. Part of a limited series batch, this selection was a special brew with a locally sourced ingredient: Prickly Pear. Moving on from that, we tried the Black Lager. Next in the tasting series came the Blonde, followed by the Kosmos and finally the Hefewiezen. Since I have had the Bock before, I donated my only bottle towards some future good will for the blog.

Texas Craft Beer

Shinerr Prickly Pear

The Prickly Pear beer was different. I was expecting something similar to a fruit beer, or maybe a lambic, but this was neither of those. Cactus Fruit is said to taste like a watermelon, or maybe a kiwi, however I got none of that. The smell was sweet, but the taste was neither sweet nor sour, and it definitely wasn’t the taste of beer. Other tasters described it as a non-sweet fruit juice, and the lower carbonation sure gave off that look. This was not my favorite of the weekend, but two other tasters wanted more.

The Black Lager, and frankly the Blonde, Kosmos were pretty status quo. They were all fine beers, but they lacked character. The Black Lager, my favorite of the three was fine, but it wasn’t a standout. It had a slight malty taste, but it wasn’t at the levels I would have preferred. Others stated that maybe this was a fall beer and would taste better when the air was crisp, and a fire was going. The Blonde was more champagne like, with its higher carbonation. Unlike the Black Lager, this beer was described as a refreshing beer in the heat, but nothing [flavor-wise] jumps out. The Kosmos was probably the least liked of the bunch. It has a slight sour smell and taste that didn’t mix well with the caramel-ness of the malt.

Texas Craft Beer

Texas Beer Selection

The final Shiner of the weekend was the Hefewiezen. Again, this beer wasn’t anything I would be clamoring for anytime soon. A good beer, but maybe after all of these weeks of interesting, sometimes experimental, brews, I have come to cherish the unique and distinct characteristics that have become prevalent in American craft beer. An interesting experiment might have been to compare this Hefewiezen. with something a bit more mass market, like a Harpoon UFO.

Texas Craft Beer

Southern Star Brewing Buried Hatchet Stout

After all of the Shiner was opened, we cracked open a can of Buried Hatchet Stout. This beer was different. It had that distinct smell of roasted malt, grains and coffee, a characteristic that has been popping up over the weeks on this project. The taste was sweet and coffee-like, and it had a thick mouthfeel. Not maple syrup thick, but it wasn’t a light beer. While well liked, this beer was described as Tastes better than it smells. and Not sure I could drink a whole can of this.

That concludes Texas. And while we enjoyed the tasting, we were not enamored with the beer from Shiner. Except for two tasters that will take more of that Prickly Pear if you have it.

Thanks for reading. Next week Iowa.

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beer, History

Michigan : Say Yes to Michigan

While settlers have been living in Michigan for many years, starting with the French in the wary 1600’s, it would be many years before Michigan became an state. When Michigan did enter the union as the 26th state, the United States was already over 60 years old. Even with this long settler history, the first records of brewing in the state show that it was the British settlers of the 1800’s, with their introduction of ale. This timeframe coinesides with the completion of the Erie Canal, a newly constructed water route connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. The introduction of this canal made it easier for immigrants to settle in the western territories like Michigan.

Not far behind the British were the German immigrants, and with them came lager beer. As was the case with many other states in the 1840-50s, lager was quickly become the beer of choice. In fact, lager became so dominant in Michigan that in the years between 1862 and 1882 the number of ale brewers in the city of Detroit dropped from 28 to 4.

One of the newly dominant lager brewers in Michigan was a guy named Bernhard Stroh. Having learned the art from his father back in Germany, Bernhard setup his own brewery in Detroit in 1850 and quickly started brewing pilsner, a pale lager style. When Bernhard first started his operation, he relied on a door-to-door sales approach, hawking his goods from a wheelbarrow.

There were no wheelbarrows involved with my acquisition of beer for this weeks tasting, but that would have been fun. Instead, I relied on some of the dwindling stock from the start of this project that included two different styles from Bell’s Brewery, and some beer from Founders, which has recently started to appear in the state and is now readily available.

So, with a nice break in the rain, and a gathering of friends in the backyard, we set about sampling, and then drinking a variety of beer from Michigan.

 

Michigan craft beer

Bell’s and Founders, Two of the many craft brewers in Michigan

When I setup tastings, I prefer to leave the IPAs until the end. With their hop kick, it usually makes it harder to get anything out of the following samples. However, more often than not lately, we have been encountering situations where it is unclear which beer to start with. With this project, the beer is not grouped by style, or year, like other tastings. Instead the beer is geographically grouped, and that often results in some strange combinations. And this week is a perfect example. We had two stouts: Expedition Stout and Breakfast Stout, and we had IPAs: Two Hearted Ale, All Day IPA and Centennial IPA.

So, sticking with the IPAs last, we kicked off with the stouts. Maybe not the best decision of the night, be we had to start somewhere.

The first stout of the night was the Expedition Stout from Bell Brewery.

Michigan Craft Beer

Expedition Stout from Bell’s Brewery

Known as the oldest craft brewer east of Colorado, Bells has been honing their craft for more than 25 years now. Starting with a 15-gallon stock pot operation in 1985, Bells has grown to a 200-barrel brewhouse today. One of the beers that comes from that brewhouse is a Russian Imperial Stout called Expedition Stout. In the glass, this beer was dark. It looked like 40 weight motor oil, and it had a really nice, sweet aroma. The mouthfeel was all malt, and it was enjoyable, placing this beer in the upper echelon for the year. After all the others were sampled, this was the first beer everyone went back for seconds.

Following the Expedition Stout, we moved to a Breakfast Stout from Founder’s Brewery. While as dark and malty as the Expedition, this beer was not as thick, and felt lacking in character. I think if I had this beer stand-alone, it would have been just fine, and even well liked. But when compared with the Expedition, it didn’t.

Michigan Craft Beer

Bell’s Brewery, Two Hearted Ale

Now here is why I think the ordering was wrong. The third beer was Two-Hearted Ale from Bells. The first time I had this beer, I was floored. It was flavorful, and very enjoyable. I wished I had easier access to it, because it was unlike anything I have had before. Now maybe after trying a few different beers on this project I have come to discover more beer like the Two-Hearted ale and it lost some of its magic, but I would like to think it was the ordering of the samples. As I have come to expect from this beer, the aroma was a rich bouquet of various hops. The color, was typical of its style, with a slightly cloudy appearance in the glass. On the tongue, the taste was very mild. This is most likely due to the two previous stouts. In the end, I will always enjoy this beer, and it does hold a special place for anyone that has tried it. Just a mention of Bell’s, and the first response is usually Two-Hearted Ale.

After the Two-Hearted Ale, we had two more selections from Founders, and we started with the All Day IPA. This beer started with “Smells like someone just mowed the lawn” and ended with “All day IPA, I don’t think so.” With its truly distinct aroma, I was expecting to really like this beer, but the finish was off. Very bitter, and not in the good way. Overall, this was not a favorite of the night.

We capped the tasting off with a Centennial IPA from Founders. I enjoyed this beer more than the All Day (Disclaimer: That one grew on me too over the evening,) as I enjoy the piney aroma from the Centennial hops. It also had a nicer finish, not as bitter. I think this was my favorite Founders of the evening.

Michigan Craft Beer

Founders Brewery, All Day IPA and Centennial IPA

At the end of the sampling, everyone went to the cooler to grab a bottle of their favorite of the evening, and we all settled in to enjoy some conversation and a beautiful evening.

Thanks for all the participants this week. It was fun.

Next week. Florida.

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beer, History

Missouri : Close to Home. Far from ordinary.

Johnny Hymer was a miner always on the job,
Johnny loved his lager like a sailor loves his grog.
One day his foreman told him that this country would go dry,
John threw his tools upon the ground,
You should have heard him cry.
No Beer, No Work. 1919

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson made the largest land grab in United States history when he completed the Louisiana Purchase. Part of that acquisition was a block of land that is now the state of Missouri. Known as the Gateway to the West, Missouri, was the starting point for western exploration, including the Louis and Clark Expedition. Eighteen years after the Louisiana Purchase, Missouri would become the 24th state, and this week’s featured state.

In the early 1930s, a St. Louis lawyer named Luther Ely Smith, wanting to commemorate St. Louis’ role in westward expansion, pitched an idea for a memorial. Over the course of the next 30 years, The Gateway Arch would come to fruition, and in the process become the largest man-made monument in the United States. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, which played a critical role in western expansion, The Gateway Arch also has a physical connection to American brewing history.

In 1838, a German immigrant, Johann Adam Lemp came to St. Louis and opened a grocery store. In addition to groceries, Lemp, a master brewer back in Germany, sold his own brewed beer and vinegar. It wasn’t long before beer became his primary product, and in 1840, the Lemp Brewery was established. Starting out brewing ales, the brewery soon took advantage of the natural caves around St. Louis perfect for lagering, and became the first commercial lager brewer in the country.

St. Louis is also know for another national brewer, Anheuser-Busch. Started about a decade after Lemp, Anheuser-Busch quickly grew through multiple acquisitions and various price fixing schemes. And it wouldn’t take long for this fast growing brewery to eclipse Lemp Brewery. However Lemp and Anheuser-Busch remained the most prominent brewers in the state for a few decades, producing a majority of the 61 million gallons of beer brewed in St. Louis in 1892.

The Lemp Brewing Company would not survive prohibition, and by the 1960s, Anheuser-Busch would become one of the few operating breweries in the United States. But the Lemp brewing legacy will always live on in Missouri, as part of the land acquired for building the Arch was also the site of the original Lemp brewery.

While Anheuser-Busch would continue to dominate the St. Louis beer scene throughout the 60s and 70s, during the 1980s American would start to see a new growth in the beer industry. One of those new companies looking to reintroduce flavorful beer to the country is Boulevard Brewing Company. Founded in 1989, Boulevard has grown from its original business plan of 6000 barrels a year to a current 600,000 barrels a year. This week, we will be sampling a very small portion of those 600k barrels in the form of 5 different and interesting styles.

Missouri Craft Beer - Boulvard Brewing

Missouri Craft Beer – Boulvard Brewing

Boulevard is not the only brewery operating in Missouri today, but they are the only brewery I have easy access to here in New England. Their Tank 7 and The Sixth Glass are common sights on the shelves of many local beer stores, so we grabbed a bottle of each, and found a few others, and set out for a celebration of Missouri.

We started the evening off with Tank 7, a Saison, or Farmhouse Ale. In the glass, this beer was slightly cloudy, with a nice pale straw color. It just called out as light and refreshing, with its Amarillo hops exuding a nice, citrus aroma. The taste of this beer, slightly bitter with a dry finish, was well loved by everyone at the tasting party. While not the best Saison I have ever had, it sure is up their in the rankings, making this a beer I would come back to again.

After the Tank 7, we switched to a beer named The Sixth Glass, named after a Hans Christian Anderson Story.

The sixth glass! In that sits Satan himself—a well-dressed, conversable, lively, fascinating little man—who never contradicts you, allows that you are always in the right—in fact, seems quite to adopt all your opinions.
                                        Olê, the Watchman of the Tower

Missouri Craft Beer

Boulevard, The Sixth Glass

In the glass, The Sixth Glass looked beautiful, with its frothy head, and nice, caramel color. The aroma of this beer was sweet and fruity, with a slight burnt smell. While this beer presented well across the group, the taste was not enjoyed as much. Two of the four people participating, opted out of finishing this beer. One taster even went so far as calling it flabby.

From The Sixth Glass, we moved into the IPAs, the first being Boulevard’s Single Wide. Containing six varieties of hops, this beer has a lot going on. Each taster got a different aroma profile from this beer. Some picking up the citrus aromas of the Cascade hops, while others quickly detected the piney aromas of the Simcoe hops. In the glass, this beer has a nice, pale gold color with a bubbly, carbonated body. The aftertaste of this beer was clearly hops, which was expected given the number of varieties used in this brew. Overall, this beer was well liked.

The next beer of the evening was another IPA, this one called Double Wide. A Double IPA, we expected the hops in this beer to come off much stronger than the Single Wide. However we were wrong in that assumption. This beer, also brewed with 5 different varieties of hops, was darker than the Single Wide. And that darker color came through in the flavor as well, dampening the hops, and letting the malty caramel flavors come forward. In an IPA, I prefer hops, from start to finish. So with this beer, it was unexpected to have the more caramel malt taste dominate the palate. In that respect, I didn’t enjoy this beer as much as the Single Wide.

Missouri Craft Beer

Boulevard Coffee Ale

The final beer of the night was a Coffee Ale. A limited release beer, this brew joins the ranks of the coffee beers that have been one of the pleasant surprises of this project. We have been surprised at the number of beer / coffee collaborations we have encountered this year, with each one presenting a unique character. The Coffee Ale was no different. As with all of the coffee beers we have sampled this year, this beer has a nice spicy, coffee aroma. Everyone loved this beer. It tastes just like coffee! and it quickly generated ideas for recipes. This would make a great Red-eye gravy! In the end, this was another well loved beer, rounding out another great tasting week.

Thanks Boulevard, and Missouri for keeping the craft beer tradition alive.

Next week, Arkansas.

 

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