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Other historic beers on my wish list

As I type this nobody has come up with the starting bid of $1,500 for eight bottles of Ballantine Burton Christmas beer, and it’s not going to be me.

Sure, I wish I had a chance to try the beer. It’s intriguing that it would have stood up all these years, but as long as we are wishing for impossible things … I’d like to have a taste of what it was like in the 1960s or ’70s, when Fritz Maytag and other new wave brewers tasted it. It likely influenced where a new generation of beers was headed.

There are other beers like that – I’m not interested in old bottles that turn up, but what they tasted like at their prime – but I’ll start with a simple 6-pack.

1. Ballantine Burton Ale. For reasons already stated.

New Albion sign at Russian River Brewing

2. New Albion Ale. New Albion was the first American microbrewery built from scratch and you simply cannot measure its impact. The Brewers Association this year honored founder Jack McAuliffe. Michael Jackson wrote that this was the “truest to the (English ale) model in its hoppy bitterness and well-attenuated body.”

(The photo is a sign that used to hang at New Albion and now sits above the window looking into the barrel room at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa.)

3. Cartwright Portland Beer. Cartwright was Oregon’s first micro, and Don Younger of the Horse Brass Pub tells wonderful stories about the excitement surrounding the arrival of its first beer. Problem is Cartwright beers weren’t very good (Jackson refers to “some technical” woes). The second micro, BridgePort, was much better, and you know the rest about what happened in Portland.

4. Newman’s Pale Ale. Bill Newman opened the first micro east of the Mississippi in 1981 and kept it running until 1987, exerting influence mostly forgotten 20 years later. He was devoted to the English model, fining his beer in casks and serving it at cellar temperature. In Beer School, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter write “he refused to compromise with anything modern.”

5. Shiner “Old World Bavarian Draft.” Locals still talk about the dark Bavarian-style beer that brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl brought with him from Germany in 1915. It was brewed into the 1960s but had different names after Prohibition. Spoetzl had a strong German consumer base, but it is still interesting that he was able sell an all-malt German-style lager at time (pre-Prohibition) the rest of the country was drifting toward lagers lighter in color and flavor. After all, Shiner is in Texas (south of San Antonio).

6. Anchor Steam (circa 1965). Maytag readily admits the beer was sour and not very good when he first tasted it and bought a controlling share of the brewery. The American beer revolution hasn’t been driven by steam beer, but without that (then) sour beer …

13 Responses to Other historic beers on my wish list

  1. Loren May 24, 2007 at 9:02 am #

    6-pack eh? OK…here goes mine:

    1) Hull Bock

    2) New England Holiday Ale

    3) Hammer & Nail ESB

    4) Elm City Belle Dock Barleywine

    5) Catamount Christmas Ale

    and

    6) Blind Pig Double IPA (the original)

  2. Jeff Alworth May 24, 2007 at 12:13 pm #

    I had a co-worker who had an original six-pack of Cartwright in his basement, and he was willing to part with it. But somehow I didn’t press the issue, and now he’s gone on to better things (retirement) and the sixer is lost. One of my great regrets.

  3. Stan Hieronymus May 24, 2007 at 1:51 pm #

    Jeff – Don Younger has said he has Cartwright in his cellar.

    Given those “technical issues” you really have to wonder what the beer might be like now. Here is what James Robertson wrote (apparently after tasting it in 1979):

    “Tawny-orange color, sharp strong nose (almost like cinnamon), strong and sharp sweet ale taste, light body, balance is not good, a bid overdone, long sharp aftertaste. A worthy effort of the type, but a bit too pungent for most palates.”

  4. SteveH May 25, 2007 at 5:18 am #

    I wonder how he defines “sweet ale taste?” Do you suppose that would be what we call ester-filled these days?

  5. Bill Westinghouse May 25, 2007 at 6:44 am #

    Shiner has a new beer out just this week called Shiner 98 (it’s their 98th year breweing beer). It’s labeled a Bavarian-style amber lager and is supposed to come pretty close to Kosmo Spoetzl’s old recipe. According to the brewmaster, he uses 20% Munich malt, plus they use two types of imported Bavarian Hallertau hops, one in the kettle and another for dry hopping, just like they used to do.

  6. SteveH May 25, 2007 at 7:10 am #

    Bavarian Style Amber Lager? What’s the remaining 80% of the grain bill? Hopefully not corn grits. And…dry-hopping a lager?

    All very interesting since the only “amber lager” in a “Bavarian style” is Oktoberfest, and it’s not supposed to be light in body or hoppy in aroma or flavor. Sort of negates the style designation.

  7. Stan Hieronymus May 25, 2007 at 9:22 am #

    On James Robertson and Cartwright I wish Jim were still around to ask about that. I wonder if he was trying to alert lager drinkers to the something different in the flavor, a fruitiness (ester driven).

    Or by “sweet” does he mean syrupy and underattenuated?

  8. Stan Hieronymus May 25, 2007 at 9:27 am #

    On Shiner/Spoetzl, remember the difference between 1915 and now.

    Kosmo Spoetzl was not brewing to style, amber or otherwise.

    I’m looking foward to when it reaches out market. I’m not a fan of all of Shiner’s beers, but some or pretty good and it’s certainly a brewery that is about “place.”

  9. SteveH May 25, 2007 at 10:10 am #

    “…remember the difference between 1915 and now.”

    What’s that? That false advertising as a phrase hadn’t yet been invented? 😉

    Then again…you gotta wonder how “A true Pilsner beer” flies!

  10. SteveH May 25, 2007 at 10:13 am #

    “I wonder if he was trying to alert lager drinkers to the something different in the flavor, a fruitiness (ester driven).”

    That was my thought too. I guess the crossover of wine tasting notes and beer tasting hadn’t started in 1979. I was drinking Oly and Stroh’s. 😛

  11. Jeff Alworth May 27, 2007 at 8:45 pm #

    What people thought was “too pungent” in 1979 may not give the best sense of what they think now. For example, for a period in the 90s, Full Sail had to battle perceptions that they were selling out and dumbing down their amber, which was the first assertive beer many Oregonians ever tasted. But it wasn’t assertive in an absolute sense. By the late 90s, beers regularly featured more than 50 IBUs (and were considered mainstream). Full Sail Amber hadn’t changed–palates had.

    Still, but all accounts, Cartright’s pungency did not arise from agressive, creative brewing, but other, less intentional brewing practices. I doubt Don would sell me his bottle, but if he did, it would have extra groovy historical significance.

  12. Emo April 29, 2008 at 11:59 am #

    I have a Cartwright Portland Beer poster (18×24) and a coaster. They have been in a closet since the 80’s and could use a better home. The condition of both is good, but not mint. The full bottles from that era are long gone.

  13. JOHN B November 13, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    I found 2 full bottles of Cartwright in a antique store in LaGrande the days
    ago. They looked cloudy-hazy……….If you look hard enough u might still find Cartwright beer just waiting to be found….

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