Today's beer history installment is something of a micro-level view of my previous column on German-American brewers—but this one has a Halloween twist. The story of the rise and fall of the Lemps, once one of America's most powerful brewing families, reads like something out of gothic fiction; and, as would be entirely appropriate for that genre, some say that they've never left.
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While ostensibly German-style lagers dominate the bulk of the American beer landscape now, German brewers were a relatively late addition to the scene, arriving in large numbers only in the mid-19th century. But the successes of this often tight-knit community bred resentment and xenophobia from those whose forebears had arrived in the US in earlier waves of immigration—and that ill will helped to bring about Prohibition. But before we rush straight to 1920, a brief review is in order.
The traditional Biergarten is a Bavarian invention first developed in the mid-19th century around the city of Munich during the reign of Bavarian King Ludwig the First. Back then, the good people of Munich mostly drank dark beer known in German as Dunkel Bier. These beers were cold-fermented, and before the invention of industrial cooling systems, brewing at a cool temperature was only possible during winter.
Hefeweizen is a wheat beer, but for lovers of serious beer, what makes it exciting is the yeast. (Hefe actually means yeast in German, so this shouldn't be a huge surprise.) The special ale yeasts that are used to make traditional German Hefeweizen produce crazy flavors and aromas during fermentation—you can taste cloves and banana, spice and smoke, even traces of vanilla and bubblegum.