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Different Days

We saw Jason Isbell (and The 400 Unit, with James McMurtry opening; pretty good deal) in concert last week. The playlist included his song, “Different Days,” and although the lyrics have next to nothing to do with what follows I heard his voice singing “Those were different days” when I came across this passage today.

It appeared in the May/June 1998 issue of The New Brewer magazine, at the time the journal of the Institute of Brewing Studies, the predecessor of the Brewers Association. The “Industry in Review” included a few paragraphs titled “Running Out of Novelty Flavors.”

This seems to be the case, and maybe it’s not such a bad situation. The short history of U.S. craft brewing contains an incredibly long list of different, non-traditional grains, herbs spices, fruits and a few vegetables that commercial brewers have put in their beer. Sometimes it’s more for fun and excitement—to create a special or novelty beer—and other times it’s more for profit—to participate in a growing category. Alternatively, it gives a brewery the distinction of being the “first” to brew with a particular ingredient, a claim to fame that usually far outlast the product itself. A notable example is the story of McMenamins Mars Bar Ale, which has achieved industry folk legend status, even though it was one batch of beer more than a decade ago.

In a market full of porters, stouts, bocks and wheat beers, brewers are still trying hard to come up with new beers to distinguish themselves from other competitors and crave out their own niche. In 1997 a few brewers made beer using hemp seeds and a few others made the first vanilla beers. Now that the list of all conceivable ingredients being in drinkable beer—within reason—seems close to being exhausted, the trend of trying to invent the new novelty may be ending.

That notwithstanding, craft brewing will continue to be a safe realm for creating new flavors and experimenting with different grains, different yeast, and new combinations of ingredients never before attempted. In addition, the whole world of indigenous beer styles brewed by different cultures still awaits the more adventurous micro- and pubbrewers.

No, I did not find this while researching pastry stouts.


Monday links: Real pubs, Southern Beer & under the influence


Roger Baylor is returning to the publican game. And he is bringing his opinions.

To be honest, I don’t care how much a customer thinks he or she knows following a quick electronic glance at the empty mental calories on Thrillist. Remember: miles wide, millimeters deep. The customer might yet be right, though not until I’m finished framing the options. No single person can know everything, but it is the obligation of all involved in the sale of better beer to possess an ability to explain and conceptualize.

In a story at Insider Louisville Baylor’s partner, Joe Phillips, says, “We’re going to resurrect the spirit of what a real pub is.”
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Monday beer links: Diversity, more diversity, and supertasters


Diversity doesn’t happen by accident. If you somehow missed this terrific post from Melissa Cole, read it now. Think about how to support change, and the people who have been in the trenches for year. Think about how to initiate change. Nieman Labs points out that a lot of publications are paying lip service to inclusiveness and diversity. Outside is actually doing it.

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Session #132: Here’s to frivolous (and Fred)

The SessionIn the first two contributions to The Session #132 (Homebrewing Conversations) I read Boak & Bailey explained why their homebrewing kit remains in the attic and Alan McLeod wrote it was “no hobby for this old man.”

And I thought about Fred Eckhardt (longtime “dean of American beer writers” until his death in 2015), talking about the first beer he brewed and why he quit. The stories are deep within this longer collection of paragraphs, so here are quick extracts.

Blue Ribbon hop-flavor malt extract

Eckhardt’s experience with his stepfather’s homebrew in the 1940s was pretty common. The recipe for 10 gallons included a 3-pound can of Blue Ribbon Hop Flavored Malt Extract, 10 pounds of sugar, water and a cube of Fleischmann’s Yeast. “It was hideous beer, but it had alcohol and it did sustain me and my friends in college,” he said.

He began learning about winemaking in the 1960s, but had no interest in recreating his stepfather’s homebrew. During a trip to San Francisco in 1968, just a few years after Fritz Maytag had rescued Anchor Brewing Co. and its unique steam beer from extinction, Eckhardt enjoyed an Anchor Steam with a friend.

“He said, ‘This tastes just like homebrew’ and I thought, ‘You don’t know what homebrew tastes like,'” Eckhardt said. “Then I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make beer like this?”

Given the amount of information available to homebrewers today — in print, on the internet, from other brewers — it’s hard to imagine now what a formidable task that seemed to be 30 years ago.

Eckhardt ended up writing a booklet called “A Treatise on Lager Beer” because there was nothing like it, and various editions sold 120,000 copies in the next 11 years.

And why he quit.

I was on national TV as the last person in the country to brew illegally,” he said. NBC sent a cameraman to his house the night before homebrewing was legalized (in 1978) to shoot video of boiling wort through a window.

“I made the beer (a barley wine) and I never bottled it — I just forgot about it for years,” Eckhardt said. “That’s one of the reasons I quit homebrewing, the bottling. I used to bottle four or five bottles from a batch to get the information (for articles he was writing about brewing) and leave the rest.”

. . . he has spoken to scores of homebrew clubs across the country. “The crazier the group, the more successful,” he said. The Foam Rangers in Houston invited him back every year to lead a beer tasting during the Dixie Cup, a homebrew competition and celebration unlike any other. They produce a new “Fred T-shirt” every year with Eckhardt’s likeness on it.

Winemakers do nothing comparable. “Winemakers are so serious. Beermakers are frivolous,” he said.

Here’s to frivolous.


The Session #132: Homebrewing conversations

The SessionThe Session, which was not conceived as something that would be around 11 years, wraps up 11 years on Friday. Host Jon Abernathy asks contributors to write about “homebrewing—the good, the bad, your experiences, ideas, (mis)conceptions, or whatever else suits you, as long as it starts the conversation!”*

The topic is timely, even if you didn’t realize it. Last week the Brewers Association and Charlie Papazian announced that next January he will be stepping down from the BA. Papazian and Charlie Matzen, both school teachers at the time, founded the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder, Colo., in 1978. Papazian started the Great American Beer Festival four years later. And the following year, the Association of Brewers was organized to include the AHA and the Institute for Brewing and Fermentation Studies to assist the growing number of new breweries.

And here we are today. Where might we be otherwise?


* Those unfamiliar with The Session can find details about how to participate in Abernathy’s post.


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