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In NOLA, ‘city beer’ brewed with magic

Some times I have so much fun doing research I feel a bit guilty. Unless I can convince myself that magic is somehow indigenous there’s little chance New Orleans “city beer” is going to make it into “Indigenous Beer: American Grown.” So I’ll just share this passage from “Germans in Louisana” now:

Before the 1850s a beverages called “city beer” was consumed by the common man in the saloons and restaurants of New Orleans. This concoction was made according to a secret formula from fermented molasses and vermouth1 but contained no preservatives. Consequently it would spoil during transportation and had to be drunk soon after it was brewed. Beer drinkers added syrup to mitigate the herbal taste and were known to suffer violent hangovers if they over indulged. It was the custom for the oldest boy in German families to fetch a bucket of beer at the end of the day to be drunk with dinner.

In 1845 the first city brewery appeared in New Orleans, on Philip and Royal streets, owned by Wirth and Fischer. A local German newspaper described the product of this Stadtsbreuei (city brewery) as made of magic and big barrels of sugarcane syrup mixed with Mississippi River water. Despite the popularity of city beer in the German community, the brewing business was hampered by the necessity of drinking the beer on the day it was brewed.

You read that right: magic is listed as one of the ingredients

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1 In another book (“The German People of New Orleans 1650-1900″) says city beer was “a molasses brew and wormwood.”

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‘Guardians of the Temple of Brewing Culture’

Boak & Bailey follow up on the Wall Street Journal’s story about contract brewing in Belgium (“In Belgium, Battle Builds Between Brewers and ‘Beer Architects”) by examining what the requirements might be for a credible beer architect. Their list:

– has a qualification from a great brewing school;
– has worked hands-on in breweries;
– has studied hops, malt, yeast and water in the laboratory;
– knows the history of beer and its place in culture;
– pays painstaking attention to detail and
– has a well-trained palate and excruciatingly good taste.

They also introduce the term “ghost brewed” — which seems like it should be useful in this argument that is never going to go away.

One bit of disclosure. I made my bias obvious when Joe Stange tweeted “Beer ‘architects’ is utter bullshit. Any asshole can think up a beer idea and google a decent recipe. Only brewers make them drinkable” and I replied “It insults both real brewers and real architects.”

Now onto the rest, which goes beyond who conceives the plan for a particular beer (but feel free to let that “ghost brewed” idea rattle around the back of your head). Who physically makes the beer matters. To me. Maybe not to you. And apparently not to Sebastien Morvan, one of the principals in the story. I don’t mean to get all touchy-feely on you, or hipster-foodie (think of the couple in Portlandia who take a look at a free-range chicken’s “papers” before ordering). But there’s an acquired level of skill involved, and a respect for the process.

As I already wrote, I am biased going in, but this was also my takeaway from two books last year: “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” and “The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer.” The title of the former gives away its intent. In the introduction of the latter, Williams Bostwick writes, “Because if beer’s essence can be dstilled to one idea, it’s this: beer is made.” Some parts of this book can feel a little forced, which could be a function of trying to spin the history of the world around beer, but when the narrative revolves around the process of making beer then it’s a five-star book (currently 8 for 8 at Amazon).

An accredited beer architect presumably would know just how to do this. Morvan doesn’t exactly come across thinking he needs to.

He creates beers with the aid of mass tastings, crowdsourced recipes and Internet forums. And then he gets someone else to brew them. “I get frustrated at people acting like the guardians of the temple of brewing culture.”

“Guardians of the Temple of Brewing Culture” sounds like my kind of summer movie blockbuster, preferably starring Ralph Fiennes.

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Because process always matters in beer & brewing

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 01.05.15

Session 95: Those Unwritten Books And Happy Marriages…
This month’s Session resulted in a feast of links, nicely organized by host Alan McLeod. Excellent commentary included. [Via A Good Beer Blog]

Sierra Nevada’s New Hop Hunter IPA Is Like No Other Beer in Its Class.
Reducing this to very unsexy basics: Sierra Nevada Brewing will soon release an IPA made with concentrated essential oils gathered from unkilned hops using steam distillation. Writing for Esquire, Aaron Goldfarb flushes out the details and offers a tasting note: “Like most wet hop beers, Hop Hunter is extraordinarily floral and aromatic, like sticking your nose into a freshly-picked plant or flower bouquet. It’s not really bitter-tasting either, certainly not as bitter as your typical IPAs.”

Blatz Tempo I’d like to know more about the process, and if I did I would share it with you. It feels like there are implications beyond if Hop Hunter IPA is a “best of class” beer. I will be in full research mode late this month at the American Hop Convention in San Diego and will report back.

Almost 50 years ago, Blatz Brewing in Milwaukee sold its own version of a “fresh hop” beer called Tempo. At the time, Blatz president Frank Verbest said the brewery spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollar coming up with the process to brew the beer, partnering with companies outside the brewing industry. He likened it to distilling crude oil into gasoline and other derivatives. (The online version of the Milwaukee Journal can be a little difficult to read — I quoted from it extensively three years ago.)

A few years later, Fortney Stark sued Blatz, claiming they had not honored a 1954 deal in which he turned over his secret process for this extracting process. His patent describes a process that most often uses methanol as an extractive. The extract was then “concentrated to any desired degree by evaporation or distillation to expel the solvent.” So a different process and — given the beer was advertised as “a new discovery that frees beer from bitterness’ — a different intent than Sierra Nevada has for this IPA. [Via Esquire and Jess Kidden]

Process or ingredients?
A couple of days after Christmas I visited Jester King Brewing outside of Austin to talk about, and taste, beers that reflect where they are brewed. One of the first things Jeff Stuffings asked me is if this indigenous-American book beer I’m working on will be focused more on ingredients or process. A fair question, since I wanted to talk about how they integrate locally cultivated ingredients in the beer, about their unique mixed-culture yeast, and about local water, among other things. However, the answer has to be both. It won’t do to simply list ingredients that brewers used 300 years ago or are including now. How they were or are prepared, when they were or are added, those things matter. Eight days later, quite interesting to read what Lars Marius Garshol has to write about the same situation in Norway. [Via Larsblog]

In Belgium, Battle Builds Between Brewers and ‘Beer Architects’.
The Wall Street Journal catches up with something Joe Stange wrote for Belgian Beer & Food last spring, but that one is not online. Imagine the conversations we’ve been having here for a very long time in the U.S. taking place in Flemish and French. [Via Wall Street Journal]

Breweries that Closed.
Even in Beervana, breweries fail. From Bryan Yaeger: “Ostensibly this is a story about breweries you’ve likely never tasted beer from or possibly heard of–such as Bull Ridge or Blue House–but what good is reading an obit for someone you’ve never met or read about unless you can put their life in context? So before we start to eulogize the not-really-dearly departed, let’s consider this a living wake.” [Via The New School]

Guide to opening a hipster cafe.
h/T to Max Bahnson for pointing to this and suggesting, via Twitter, “Replace a few words with “Craft Beer” and you’ve got the perfect guide to opening a Beer Bar.” [Via Imbur]

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Session #95: Have I got book ideas for you

The SessionThree-time Session host Alan McLeod — the first three-time host — has offered a question for the 95th round that is delightfully easy for me to answer.

What is the book you would want to write about good beer?

I’m already at work on a book focused on indigenous beers of North America, past and present. Expect it from Brewers Publications in September of 2016.

There are plenty of other books I think somebody should write, so three quick suggestions:

– More indigenous. It’s a big world.

– More national or regional books like Martyn Cornell’s “Beer: The Story of the Pint: The History of Britain’s Most Popular Drink.” Memo to publishers:it is out of print and used copies are going for $40. Seems to indicate a level of reader interest.

– The last few days Jeff Alworth and McLeod have posted some year-in-review stats for Beervana and A Good Beer Blog respectively. A quick look here reveals that the best read post here is from almost seven years ago (gee, Stan, what have who written recently?): “Words to describe the beer you are tasting” (14,754 views). And I am pretty sure they are coming to read what I cribbed from the Merchant du Vin newsletter. No 2014 post attracted one third the attention (the top ones were all hop related). Does this demonstrate the need for an entire book? I’m pretty sure somebody clever could wrap a very interesting book around this topic, or use it to write something I would find totally silly and useless. Strangely intriguing.

Of course I’d like to see these books in print in English. That’s the language I read. But it should be obvious much of the research requires understanding other languages, making sense of things when Google Translate struggles.

If you decide to tackle one of these projects you are welcome for the ideas. You know you’ve got one customer. If you are looking other inspiration, then poke around the comments section at A Good Beer Blog. I fully expect to see something there I wish I’d thought of first. (Confession, I have a “Steal this idea” folder on Evernote.) But I’ve already got a book to write.

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Closing Time – 2014

The aftermash

So stack those chairs upon those tables
And stack those empties upon that bar
And count your money
And count my money
And hear those bottles ringing
You know where you are

Closing time
Unplug them people
And send them home
It’s closing time

As sung by Lyle Lovett.
Written by Christopher T. Feinstein, Lyle Pearce Lovett, L. Lovett, Jay Joyce.

You can listen to the song on YouTube, from a 1988 concert and worth a look if only for the hair. Or go further back in time (less hair) and hear Nanci Griffith chime in.

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