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What makes a beer American?

United States Brewing Company, Chicago

Well, she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinkin’
That there was a little more to life somewhere else

                - From American Girl by Tom Petty

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right

                - From American Tune by Paul Simon

A couple of days ago, Stephen Beaumont spotted a few kids on his lawn and wandered outside, holding a goblet hand blown in Belgium. He chased those rascals off, yelling: “It’s NOT Belgian or Even Belgian-Style. It’s NOT Belgian or Even Belgian-Style. It’s NOT Belgian or Even Belgian-Style.” He then proceeded to quote something he wrote on Facebook.

After my personal déjà vu moment passed (on Sunday I sent this text message to a homebrewer, “You mean an American beer fermented with a Belgian-sourced yeast.”) I got to thinking about how much sense it would be to replace Belgian and Belgium in this sentence:

“Belgian beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in Belgium. Period.”

German beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in Germany. Period.
American beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in America. Period.
Kansas City beer is beer that is brewed and fermented in Kansas City. Period.

That does not leave me feeling satisfied. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that Mr. Beaumont was wrong. I would have chased those rowdy kids off my lawn, too. But I’m left thinking there’s more to what makes a beer Belgian or Polish or Floridian than if it qualifies for a passport by birthright.

Certainly what it means to be an American beer these days.

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‘It’s at the centre of everything’

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 08.18.14

Anglers Rest pub sign

The villagers who bought their beloved local pub to save it from closure. Reading this story might make you feel as good as you will all week, no matter how great your week is. (No, really, I hope you have a wonderful week.)

“It’s much more than a pub, it’s the hub of our village,” says John Soady, who is one of the Anglers Rest’s new board of directors.

“It’s at the centre of everything, for families with young children right up to older people in their 80s. It’s an informal atmosphere where people meet and talk rather than just being nameless faces.”

[Via the Mirror]

Why the Micropub Association should be furious with Camra. Perhaps more about the British pub than you think you need to know, but there’s a reason the post has drawn 30 comments (maybe more by now).
[Via Martyn Cornell's Zythophile]

Craft beer: Tastes great, fewer taxes. About those tax deals cities, counties and states across the country are handing out to either get, or stay, in the brewing game … are they really such a great idea?
[Via Politico]

Meet the Tuppers, D.C.’s Original Beer Geeks. This story is part of the Washington City Paper’s Beer Issue. I pointed to another storty one Twitter last week, the monstrously long, “What Matters More: The Quest for New Beer, or the Beer?” Worth your time, but you need to set aside a little. An interesting pair, the second about the endless search for “whales” and the first about the search for something else.
[Via Washington City Paper]

How Much is Too Much? This must be the topic on everybody’s lips, because it keeps coming up. I understand that it’s inside baseball and it has been talked to death, but this commentary from Harry Schuhmacher includes original thinking.
[Via Beer Business Daily]

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Pabst IPA: Welcome to 2014

Ballantine IPAOK, officially, we’re talking about the return of Ballatine India Pale Ale. But Pabst owns the brand and here’s a key quote from Pabst brewmaster Greg Deuhs: “We are hoping that the current (Pabst Blue Ribbon) consumers will embrace the Ballantine IPA.” So I think there’s merit in the headline.

In any event, very good news, given that now perhaps more people will give this underappreciated India Pale Ale style a try.

News so big it warranted a story in USA TODAY with this headline: “Going hipster, Pabst resurrecting Ballantine IPA.”

Enough silliness. Ballantine India Pale Ale has an important place in American brewing history. Mitch Steele provides the details in IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. A press release announcing the revival indicates the new version will be 7.2% alcohol and contain 70 IBU. That’s pretty close to what it was right after Prohibition (7.2%, 60 IBU) and unlike what it was by the 1970s (6.7%, 45 IBU, less as the decade went on).

Also in the press release, Beuhs says: “I began this project with a simple question: How would Peter Ballantine make his beer today? There wasn’t a ‘secret formula’ in anyone’s basement we could copy, so I conducted extensive research looking for any and all mentions of Ballantine India Pale Ale, from the ale’s processing parameters, aroma and color, alcohol and bitterness specifications. Many brewers and craft beer drinkers would be impressed that the Ballantine India Pale Ale of the 1950s and ’60s would rival any craft IPA brewed today.”

He brewed more than two dozen five-gallon test batches at home.

“Unlike recreating a lost brew from long ago, I had the advantage of actually being able to speak with people who drank Ballantine back in the day,” he said for the press release. “Their feedback was crucial to ensuring that the hoppy, complex flavor that was revered for over a hundred years was front and center in my recipe.”

The new version is made with eight different hop varieties, although it isn’t clear what they are. After Prohibition the brewers distilled the oils from Bullion hops at the brewery and added them to storage tanks, its aroma making it as unique among American beers as its alcoholic strength and bitterness. Later, they ran Bullion, Brewer’s Gold or American Yakima through a hammer mill before dry hopping, grinding them to “a consistency that was a cross between corn flakes and sawdust.”

Here’s what Michael Jackson wrote about Ballantine IPA in his 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer: “Like a half-forgotten celebrity, thought by some admirers to have retired and by other to be dead, Ballantine’s has been living in quiet obscurity in Rhode island. Now, it is making something of a comeback.” He notes that brewers added Yakima and Brewer’s Gold hops in the kettle. “IPA’s colour is a rich copper in the British tradition, its head thick and rocky, its nose and palate intensely aromatic, and its body firm and full.”

Although Pabst later made a beer it called Ballantine IPA, the version served at the Great American Beer Festival in the mid-1990s did not resemble the one Jackson described. The 2014 Ballantine India Pale Ale surely will taste more like it did in 1955 than in 1995, but the IPA field is a little more crowded now. And if it really is to taste “genuine” how prominent should the citrus-pine-fruity-maybe-pungent aromas and flavors that pretty much define American IPA be? Those were not desirable back then.

Farmers didn’t begin growing the Cascade hop, the first to come out of an American hop breeding program, until 1972. Centennial was released in 1990 (although available earlier — that’s a blog post in itself), Chinook in 1985, Simcoe in 2000, Citra in 2008, El Dorado in 2011, Mosaic in 2012, Lemondrop in 2014, Equinox in 2014 — notice a trend? Ballantine IPA is stepping out of a time machine into an entirely different hop world.

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Next up, a shortage of Mosaic hops?

Hops drying in Yakima kiln

Another press release, another foreign brewery raiding American hop stocks. First there was Heineken. Now it turns out Guinness Blonde American Lager is being brewed with a combination of Mosaic, Willamette and Mount Hood hops for a “floral, hoppy aroma.”

I have no idea how hoppy it might be, but when a press release goes out of its way to mention aroma it insinuates brewers are using more hops than the global average. That one of the varieties, Mosaic, is a costly propriety hop in rather short supply is almost incidental. Willamette and Mount Hood may not be sexy choices these days, but they are growing on land where farmers could be planting Cascade or Centennial or some other hop that may (or may not) soon be in short supply. Real estate is going to be a short term issue in the American northwest, although maybe not a long term one. We’ll see.

It is also worth reporting that last month in Oregon hop farmers talked about new demand for Willamette and Mount Rainier hops, primarily from A-B InBev, which — like Heineken and Guinness — has no problem paying for an ingredient the company wants.

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What I learned about beer today

BEER From The Expert's Viewpoint

“The original extract is … the most reliable measure of quality, and the determiner of types of products of the brewing industry.”

That’s from an “expert’s viewpoint.” At least in 1937.

I’m a sucker for the classic reprint series that BeerBooks.com began releasing in 2005. Granted, my “needs” are a little different than yours. John Arnold’s “Origin And History of Beer And Brewing From Prehistoric Times to the Beginning of Brewing Science And Technology” is a delightful if sometimes clumsy read, but from my viewpoint packed with essential information (some fact checking needed). Arnold’s “History of the Brewing Industry and Brewing Science in America” is likewise essential, along with “Beer, Its History And Its Economic Value As A National Beverage.”

BEER From The Expert's ViewpointThe latest, “BEER From The Expert’s Viewpoint” was written to serve the new generation of brewers who went to work after Prohibition ended in 1933. Before Prohibition, the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology in Chicago was the premier brewing school in the country at the beginning of the twentieth century. “The Wahl-Henius Handy Book of Brewing, Malting and the Auxillary Trades” (by institute founders Robert Wahl and Max Henius) remains an essential resource, both for the details about brewing as well basic chemical analyses of many American and European beers not seen elsewhere.

Robert Wahl wrote the “Expert’s View” with his son Arnold Spencer Wahl, and it is full of his personal observations on the previous 50 years of brewing. The Table of Contents reveals the rather broad scope of the book, but the bits of cultural history Wahl throws in are as valuable as looking at what brewers knew, or needed to know, in 1937. If you want to better understand the beer culture in and around Bamberg, Germany, you can visit the area. If you want to better understand how American beer culture evolved immediately following Prohibition you need to find a time machine or read a book like this.

But back to the value of original extract, and what made for a quality beer.

The original extract gives a beer all its distinguishing features and contributes not only the quality but the character of the brew! The original extract is also responsible for the real extract (residual extract) which is the main substance in the beer or ale … Alcohol is of minor consideration for the brewer. He does brew some of his products to obtain that tang demanded by the consumer but the composition of the extract is responsible for the flavor, the taste, the smell, for the fragrance, savor, bouquet, smack, and aroma; the palate-fullness, foam fineness, lasting quality, adhesiveness; color, clarity, brilliancy, sparkle, effervescence and süffigkeit. All these look to the real extract for their origin which is in turn indebted to the original extract for its existence.”

I also learned about “hospital odor” but will spare you those details.

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