The Culture Of Beer

Whether it could be described as an epiphany or just some weird revelation is still undecided, but there it was: Bass Ale is no longer made in Burton-On-Trent, England, but instead is manufactured at a Budweiser facility in Baldwinsville, NY. This part of the InBev, Anheuser-Busch merger was never mentioned at the time. How a transnational corporation with a voracious appetite to acquire beer brands would dispose of those assets. In this case Bass Aleone of the most iconic beer brands of all time. Celebrated in a painting by Manet, the red triangle was said to be the world’s first registered trademark, where disputes concerning its misappropriation became a matter to be settled by law.

Bass Ale’s presence has been noted historically for being the Pale Ale of choice for noted explorers and wild west legends. It played a role in Hunter S. Thompson’s reporting of President Nixon’s resignation:

I reached into my bag and opened two Bass Ales. “This is a time for celebration,” I said, handing him one of  the bottles. I held mine out in front of me. “To Richard Nixon,” I said, “may he choke on the money he stole.”
The watchman glanced furtively over his shoulder before lifting his ale for the toast. The clink of the two bottles coming together echoed briefly in the vast, deserted lobby.

For those not old enough to have experienced what Bass Pale Ale actually tasted like in those time, it is suffice to say that the gypsum mineral rich water from the underground source at Burton-on-Trent, provided a delicious, almost chalky backbone to the ale, that was unique to the location. The same flavour backdrop could be found in the mostly keg produced Double Diamond Ale, also brewed in Burton-on-Trent.
Of course adding gypsum to make a hard water came to be known as Burtonizing. And I am sure that plays a part in the formula used by A-B InBev to produce their Americanized version of Bass Ale, where its historic significance has basically been obliterated by the never ending quest for a global market share. Never again will we something like Bass Country Chase Alewhich celebrated the first hunt of the season by the expert use of Challenger hops.

The expansion of available beer in the United States has produced for myself, many surprises. Just the other day I visited a convenience store’s beer cave, where only 18 months ago it was a rather dull, miniature cold warehouse, stocked full of the usual pale lager suspects. But now has selections from all over, including Weihenstephan from Bavaria.

Which also produces the paradox of seeing more brands available, but not always with the original character that those brands imply. The market share wars between A-B InBev, SAB Miller, and Heineken makes me shudder at the thought of the one stein to rule them all mentality that helps to diminish, if not destroy, recipes of distinction. The F.X. Matt Brewing Company has faced that challenge, even before the creation of their renown Saranac beers, when the great regional brewer had to survive amidst the Bud Miller consolidation wars that created many casualties, including Cincinnati’s Hudepohl-Schoenling. This was quite a different universe than the one Francis Xavier Matt inhabited, when he apprenticed for the Duke of Baden, who, as F.X. Matt II, his grandson observed, saw “brewing as an art, not a science; as a way of life, not a way of making a living.”
Creativity became an essential of survival. Introducing their Matt‘s Light Beer when light beers were the rage of the country, even poetry served a purpose:

“we’re not very big compared to you
But we love our beer and know how to brew
A great light beer with malt and hops
Shove over guys, your monopoly
stops”

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The Beer Where I Live

This was a beautiful Sunday. A week before Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. The first NFL home game day, where the Bengals play their in-state rivals, the Browns, at the tax subsidized stadium named after the founder of both: Paul Brown.
The season has turned. Not quite complete autumn yet, but the ground has cooled. An observation obtained by direct experience. Meanwhile, the local television stations were aglow with all things Bengals, including the monumental inaugural of tailgate season, which means Bud Light from the Anheuser-Busch InBev juggernaut in St. Louis, Missouri. The Bud folks have been very busy lately. Extending their global transnational reach with market successful products such as Bud Light Platinum, a 6% abv concoction, that bottled in blue coloured glass, seems to hit all the right consumer buttons.
But the world’s largest brewing corporation does not stop there. Beck’s of Bremen, Germany fame, is now made in the United States. Farmed-out as it were, to more cost efficient facilities. The same can be said of The Goose Island Beer Company, where regular parts of their portfolio, such as Honker’s Ale, are no longer the concern in Chicago, leaving those “simpler” formulas to A-B InBev breweries elsewhere, providing more room for lucrative luxury productions of Bourbon County Stout.
Here in Cincinnati, Samuel Adams Octoberfest is the official beer of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, although the folks at Moerlein Lager House would disagree. Their Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest is celebrated, along with Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier, which touches the soul of this city’s German cultural roots (and virtually destroyed by the insanity of Prohibition).  But Samuel Adams is big business here, producing one third of their beers at what was the Hudepohl-Schoenling brewery, where founder Jim Koch’s father worked.

Which reminds me, it seems that a week before our local Oktoberfest, the price of a 12 pack of Samuel Adams goes up a dollar at the grocery stores. A magic marzen moment as it were, including the Munich brewed Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest, found in Newport, Kentucky. There is a plethora of Oktoberfest Festivals around here, beginning in August, all the way to October. A celebration of food to be sure, because very few recipe styles are so food friendly as this Vienna amber lager variation.

September Is Already Here

Every year there is always controversy about exactly when seasonal beers should appear on the market. I’ve read anguished responses by those who complain that autumnal creations have no business appearing in August. Well, this may bother the weather-cycle sensitive, but the truth of the matter is that breweries want to sell more beer in an ever-expanding platform of choices. So getting their products in the hands of their customers is definitely a priority.
According to the 2012 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Craft Beer is a specialty beer produced in limited quantities, which provides plenty of room to dispel many notions of what craft is suppose to mean. It is downright silly to hear such terms as microand macroused in an attempt to define the quality of a recipe. Never for a moment it seems, that the term craftsmen is ever applied to those brewers who apply their skills to make a beer consistently. Even those wretched pale lagers that the beer elite sneer at, who are shocked (absolutely shocked!) that so many millions not only drink those beers, but actually love them.
But taking into consideration the quantities part of the craft definition, this also can become problematic. Some craft beer seekers are surprised that their favourite brands are made by regional breweries, the unsung heroes of the beer revolution, who, in fact, make much of the good beer possible; whether they are located in Rochester and Utica, New York, or Wilkes-Barre and Pottsville, Pennsylvania, or St. Paul, Minnesota. They also are often surprised to learn that those lagers dreaded by the extreme India Pale Ale crowd, actually take longer to produce than their top-fermented favourites. Take for example, what happened with the Saint Arnold Brewery in Texas, when they decided to make a seasonal Oktoberfest, that was top fermented:
“When it came time to do our blind tasting to choose our beer, the ale version won by a large margin. And the ale took only two weeks to make, versus seven weeks for the lager. Tastes better, brews faster, easy decision. The ale won out.”
Which also reveals that when it comes to traditional Oktoberfest/ Marzen a considerable passage of time is required to make this great brewing style successful.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest
Probably the closest thing to a national Oktoberfest, partially due to being available nearly everywhere. This is an exquisite malt showcase recipe that is celebratory and a delicious accompaniment to a wide variety of foods.

Yuengling Oktoberfest
The first time this seasonal has been bottled. America’s oldest brewery does a solid job using their famous house yeast. Very refreshing and focused.

Great Lakes Oktoberfest
Cleveland, Ohio brewer’s malty strong production of Marzen. Eliot Ness Amber Lager’s big brother. Strong and sweet. Plenty of flavour notes.

Christian Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest
Perfectly balanced rendition, brewed in honor of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.

Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier
A Beer Doctor personal favourite. This recipe has a very tasty nut-malty character that I never grow tired of.