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”