Conventional wisdom has long held that the resumption of large-scale American beer production after Prohibition led to the use of 'adjuncts' not typically found in European beer—most notably, corn, rather than a full grain bill of barley or a combination of barley and wheat. These cheaper ingredients led to a bland, watered-down brew, and until the resurgence of craft beer in the US over the past 20 years, it was impossible to find a beer made with ingredients that America's first European settlers would have recognized; at least, that's how the story goes. The truth is a bit more complicated, and it goes back to the Mayflower.
'beer history' on Serious Eats
There are many myths swirling around the origins and evolution of porter and stout. First there is the notion that stout and porter refer to quite different styles; another holds that these beers were always dark, while a third tradition relies on the 'three threads' story to give porter an origin myth. All these tales are largely—and in some cases entirely—untrue.
When Dogfish Head was preparing to launch in 1995, some elements of Prohibition were technically still on Delaware's books; brewpubs weren't legal, and the notion of a brewery at the beach was worlds away from beer's previous role in Delaware's history, which had largely been an urban one, with commercial brewing operations largely centered in Wilmington.
Modern beer drinkers may associate Boston with the Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams, but beer has been an important part of the city's identity since its earliest days—and it's been home to more than one eponymous beer company.
While many beer fans are aware that Germany's doppelbocks were originally brewed to help medieval monks get through Lent, another traditional spring style gets a bit less press: France's Bière de Mars. A variation on a Bière de Garde and a not-too-distant relation of Belgium's saisons, this beer was traditionally made by French farmers in late winter or spring for relatively quick consumption—the 'Mars' in the name refers to the month of March.
While the Mexican craft beer market is a few years behind its US counterpart in terms of variety and availability, the country's beer roots are much deeper and more cosmopolitan than many assume.
While brewing history in St. Louis is inextricably linked with Anheuser-Busch and lager, that's not how things started off. One of the city's founders, Auguste Chouteau, was making whiskey there by the 1790s, and John Coons was brewing and selling beer on a small scale by 1809.
There is some dispute as to when Chicago gained its first brewery; was it in 1833, the same year the city was incorporated, or was the first commercial beer production seen closer to 1835? The first brewery to make a real impact on Chicago was the one founded by William Haas and Conrad Sulzer. The German-speaking immigrants arrived from New York, and were quickly producing hundreds of barrels of beer annually. In the years that followed, many breweries would rise and fall (and burn) in the Windy City. Here's a brief guide to Chicago's beer history.
While the recent history of Christmas beers is rather marketing-driven, both in the US and around the world, the tradition of brewing special beers for this time of year draws on a number of deeper traditions.
While the Seattle area is known today as a great beer destination, its brewing history goes back nearly to the city's official founding, and far pre-dates Washington's statehood. It is a convoluted story of changing ownership, expansion and re-consolidation that could easily merit its own book—so consider this the short version.
While France may be best-known for its wines these days, in the Iron Age, they were making plenty of beer—and now we have a reasonably good idea of what that process looked like (at least for one archaeological site).
While San Diego is known as a craft beer destination, being home to Stone, Ballast Point, AleSmith, and many more, there was a thriving brewing scene long before those breweries appeared. 19th- and early-20th century San Diego's breweries were a little smaller and rougher, but they were a key part of their city. Here is a brief look at three nearly-forgotten San Diego beer pioneers.
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.
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.
Far from being a modern invention of the craft beer scene, pumpkin beers have a long history in the US. The main reason pumpkin was adopted as a beer ingredient during the early colonial period was simple availability—pumpkins were a native plant (one completely unknown to most Europeans before the 16th century, while good malt was not so readily accessible. In the first pumpkin beers, the meat of the pumpkin took the place of malt entirely.
Munich's Oktoberfest began not as a beer festival, but with a royal wedding—on October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria married Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, and Bavaria rejoiced. Everyone in Munich was invited by the Bavarian National Guard to enjoy the five-day party. The field in which most events were held became known as Theresienwiese, in honor of the princess. In fact, it was so much fun (and remuneratively rewarding for Munich's city fathers) that it was decided to celebrate the royal couple's anniversary each year in similar style.
Although Iceland's early Viking (and Irish) inhabitants were known to enjoy a flagon or two of beer and mead, their descendants were not as fortunate—at least for a time. Despite a lot of practice (Iceland has had a parliamentary system since the year 930), the electorate still sometimes got things wrong. In 1908, a referendum to ban all alcohol passed, and the country went dry, beginning in 1915. Beer was not made legal again until 1989.
Sake may be the first drink that comes to mind, but despite its foreign origins, beer is the most popular beverage in Japan by some margin. First introduced as a specialty import by Dutch merchants in the 17th century, some local production began in the early19th century—Hendrik Doeff, the Dutch commissioner in Dejima, saw his supply from Europe interrupted by the Napoleonic wars, so he commissioned a local operation to ensure his own supply. Commercial beer production began in Japan later in the century, also thanks to an outsider; Norwegian-American William Copeland opened the Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama in 1870.
Wheat beers have a long history in what is now Poland, but the traditional style was rather different from the more familiar German hefeweizen—the Polish beer involved a lot of smoke. Beyond the absence of barley in its makeup, Grodziskie's other unusual element was that the wheat malt had been smoked, usually over oak, before brewing. Over time, it became known as a smoky, yet refreshing and slightly tart beer.
Nanobreweries are hot—these tiny breweries seem to be popping up all over the craft beer scene. While exact definitions regarding 'how small is small' may lead to debate over a pint for three, it seems to be generally-agreed-upon that nanobreweries are, as their name implies, really quite wee, and by both design and practicality, they are aimed at their immediate local market.