How much do you enjoy beer? If you are reading a magazine devoted entirely to beer, you are already pretty exceptional in your enthusiasm. But does it transcend mere devotion? Do you harbor a true passion for beer?
On this, the 21st anniversary of All About Beer Magazine, we asked a collection of our stalwart authors, no slouches in the beer passion department themselves, for tales of extraordinary commitment. What had true beer lovers done for beer? With beer? In beer? People have gone to extremes to make beer, to protect beer, to mourn beer, and to await the return of beer.
Here is passion, indeed.
The Indiana Jones of Beer
International intrigue, a royal court, smuggling, and industrial espionage–topics associated with paperback thrillers but rarely with brewing, an industry with an almost staid demeanor. But once upon a time, there was a frantic race across the borders of eastern Europe that rivaled the best spy novels, and the hero was a young Danish brewer named Christian Jacobsen.
It was mid-1883. Five years earlier, Jacobsen succeeded in isolating yeast in a lab at his family’s Carlsberg Brewery. He and co-worker Emil Hansen speculated that a pure batch of yeast could be grown from a single biological cell. They correctly reasoned that such a process would yield a higher quality of beer.
As work progressed, they identified dozens of yeasts. Which would work best? They weren’t sure, but eventually they decided on a simple solution. They’d seek out the best lager beer available and culture from it a pure strain of lager yeast. Their plan led Jacobsen to Munich.
Gabriel Sedlmayr of Munich’s Spaten Brewery was regarded as the most accomplished brewer of his day. An innovator in his own right, he had transformed the Spaten Brewery into a state-of-the-art facility. Without question, his lager beer was considered the best in the world. Jacobsen went there to find his perfect yeast.
Jacobsen met with Sedlmayr, studied his techniques, and better yet, obtained a sample of Spaten’s coveted yeast. With that, the adventure began. Between Jacobsen and his lab were hundreds of grueling miles, international borders, and worst of all–heat.
Lager yeast works best when kept cool; when heated, it soon expires. Jacobsen not only had to get his sample back to the lab quickly; he had to shield it from both menacing border guards and the heat of summer. Concealing the sample in his hat helped to insulate it, and with every stop, he chilled the hat in the nearest spring, hoping to keep the yeast healthy.
On arriving back in Denmark, he and Hansen lost no time in getting to work. First they identified the cell responsible for Sedlmayr’s famous beer, then, from a single cell, built up a viable colony suitable for brewing. With the royal family’s permission, he fermented the first pure batch of lager beer in cellars under protection of Copenhagen’s ramparts.
Only three years later, Carlsberg sold a sample of yeast to Schlitz and Pabst breweries. Few recall the story of Jacobsen’s headlong race across Europe, yet millions enjoy the crisp, clean taste of pure lager beer. Braving all manner of hazards, Christian Jacobsen fashioned the greatest of all brewery adventures and, with it, became the Indiana Jones of beer.
New Beer’s Eve
America’s collective passion for beer was never more in evidence than at midnight on April 6, 1933. At precisely 12:01 a.m., beer drinkers enjoyed their first taste of legal brew after more than 13 years of Prohibition. A brewery–any brewery–was a good place to be on that historic evening.
In St. Louis, 25,000 spectators were on hand as the world-famous Anheuser-Busch plant came back to life. CBS radio broadcast the ceremony live to the entire nation. Brewery head Gussie Busch presided over the festivities, thanking President Roosevelt for his “wisdom, foresight and courage” in bringing back beer. Busch concluded his rather lengthy oration by proudly announcing, “Beer is now being served.”
Big city beer plants weren’t the only spots of celebration. At the old Ripon Brewery in Ripon, WI, the plant’s steam whistle was blaring full blast. After what seemed an appropriate duration, annoyance at the whistle’s persistence began to spread throughout the otherwise sleepy community. A representative of the brewery was soon dispatched to the scene to quiet the disturbance, only to find the town’s mayor at the whistle rope.
Just up the road, the Stevens Point Brewery was selling beer faster than it could be bottled. With the brewery’s bottle-labeling machine out of commission, anxious patrons rolled up their sleeves and helped paste labels on by hand.
At the Renner Brewery in Akron, OH, officials planned to wait until daybreak to release their supply of beer. But when a crowd of 2,000 raucous beer drinkers stormed the plant at midnight, owners were compelled to reevaluate their strategy.
The night that came to be known as “New Beer’s Eve” did not go down in history as one of America’s defining moments. But, for those who partook, it was a night not soon forgotten.
Brewing in a War Zone, Part 1
In 1997, a far-sighted policy maker studying quality-of-life issues for the US Army persuaded top brass that good beer and good food could improve morale. The government hired Thomas Burnes II as this country’s first government brew master and sent him to make beer 10 miles from the DMZ in Korea.
Burnes was sent to Camp Casey, a site he says was chosen for two reasons: “First, it was one of the farthest outposts of the Army with concerns about quality-of-life issues, and, second, if it failed, no one would know!”
Burnes encountered predictable problems dealing with a military organization and with superiors who knew little about craft beer and didn’t care for drinking it. His bosses wanted the brewery up and running in a couple of months. “They didn’t understand that beer is not tea; you can’t make it today and drink it tomorrow.” They wanted a Miller-type beer; the brewery under construction was suited for ale.
Ultimately, Burnes sold his bosses on the idea of different beer styles. Over their objections, he priced the beer brewed at Reggie’s, the Camp Casey brewpub, at a level that was competitive with the American light lagers on offer.
And remarkable things happened. “The beers with the most flavor outstripped all the others,” said Burnes. His beers comprised nearly 70 percent of total beer sales. “We’re talking about very young people, with little or no college education. These kids didn’t make a lot of money. They couldn’t have been further from the usual image of the craft beer drinker.”
The top seller was an amber ale. The traditional Irish-style dry stout was a close second. Working alone, Burnes brewed around 3,000 barrels in 15 or 20 different beer styles each year. Ingredients were shipped from well-known US suppliers, and Reggie’s still made money. He kegged beer to supply other bars.
After two years, Burnes returned home. A Washington, DC, decision compelled Reggie’s to change to extract brewing to save money. But it’s a good bet that the 13,000 troops who rotated out during Reggie’s golden age came home with a passion for good beer.
Brewing in a War Zone, Part 2
In 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, Daoud and Nadim Khoury moved from the United States to found the Taybeh Brewing Co. in the village of Taybeh, near Ramallah in Palestine. It was a gesture of faith in the peace process, a hint of the expatriate capital that might flow back to a Palestine at peace, and a daring business move in the predominantly Muslim–and therefore, teetotal–community.
Master brewer Nadim Khoury has been brewing a golden beer, a light beer and a dark beer, all in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot. The beer was so well received that it was brewed under contract in Germany.
Now, sadly, Reuters reports that production has been hit hard by the renewed fighting between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, with Ramallah in the heart of much of the strife.
Real Ale Reaches the North Sea
In the early, almost-prehistoric days of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), Scotland was a wasteland, awash with pressurized, pasteurized ale known as “keg,” and a thin, flavorless apology called lager. Real cask-conditioned beer made such slow progress that Scotland didn’t even make an appearance in the first edition of the Good Beer Guide.
Then, because oil was found in abundance in the North Sea off the Scottish coast, the area around the port of Aberdeen saw a great influx of English people, many of whom demanded real ale. I happened to be in Edinburgh when a pub in Aberdeen got through to Scotland’s then regional organizer, Roger Preece, with a frantic call for a cask “o’ that stuff called real ale.”
So we set off, the two Rogers and Preece’s two dogs, in a station wagon with a cask of Theakston’s Best Bitter in the back. It was a long, slow drive, with snow blanketing the hills and mountains. We set off after breakfast and made Aberdeen by late afternoon as snow was falling in earnest.
We found the harbor side pub and rolled the cask of ale inside in triumph. Roger Preece explained in detail to the manager that the cask contained living beer. The cask would have to be tapped and vented and the beer allowed to settle before it could be served. “It’ll take at least 24 hours,” he said.
“Och, no, it won’t,” said the owner. “It’ll be on sale tonight–I’ve advertised it and there’ll be crowds in here.”
He then introduced us to the Scottish method of serving beer. None of your venting pegs and all the rituals of soft pegging and hard pegging to control the escape of natural gas. To our horrified eye, he upended the cask, drove a long tube through the bung hole, and attached it to the serving lines.
“As soon as the first few inches are clear of sediment, we’ll start serving the beer,” he declared. And so he did. All evening he pulled pints of beer, somehow keeping ahead of the sediment–much to the astonishment of the two Rogers, but giving a mighty boost to the fortunes of good beer in Scotland.
Nothing Beats Home Grown
We try to generate as many of our own brewing ingredients as possible, and usually succeed in including at least one homegrown ingredient in every batch we brew. For instance, recent beers have included juniper (sahti) gathered in the wild, St. John’s wort (St. John’s wort ale), and homegrown hops (wild rice beer). We have two hop yards, producing hops for homebrew and hop rhizomes for sale. Most years, we plant a stand or two of barley for specialty malts. We like Robust, a six-row malting variety that does well in New England.
Our friend, Brad Hunter, goes to extremes when it comes to growing hops at his goat farm in Appleton, ME. Brad has discovered how well hops grow when planted against a south-facing building, and now grows them on the south walls of his sail loft (he’s a sail maker), and the two-story sunroom of his house. The hops are trained against the sunroom glass. They grow quickly enough that, by July, they shade the sunroom with a mass of dense foliage like a vertical jungle.
When harvesting time comes, Brad lowers the hop vines on pulleys. After picking the flowers, he raises the vines again to continue cooling the house until fall. His secret to quality hops? Lots and lots of goat manure.
–Joe and Dennis Fisher
He Fought the Law, and the Brewer Won
In 1987, a brewer got the law changed. Before that date, federal law required that beer be placed in a portable container prior to removal from the brewery–the better to monitor it for tax purposes as it moved from the bonded area to the consumer. Simply making beer and serving it to customers was illegal. Some brewpubs broke the law; others complied by kegging their beer and serving from the keg.
“Buffalo” Bill Owens, proprietor of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, CA, successfully petitioned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for a change in the law. Now, a brewer may meter the beer and dispense it across the “blue line” by pipeline straight to the customer. True brewpubs became legal.
Strange But True
- researchers in Denmark discovered that beer tastes best when drunk to the accompaniment of a musical tone, which is different for each beer. The correct tone for Carlsberg Lager was 510 to 520 cycles per second.
- police in Leicester, England, were summoned to break up a family brawl and arrived to find two spinster sisters, age 93 and 94, fighting over which brand of beer to drink with dinner.
- Mrs. Robert Saunders, 49, of Milwaukee, testified that her husband had been missing since he walked out the door in 1962 saying he was going out for a beer. She was granted a divorce by the judge who noted, “It shouldn’t take nine years to get a beer in Milwaukee.”
- in Natchez, MS, it was illegal to serve beer to an elephant.
- in Bydgoszcz, Poland, a dream came true after a faulty valve at the state brewery caused the vats to empty into the municipal water supply and beer flowed from water faucets.
- and in San Francisco, an artist known as Fish premiered the aural work, “Sound as Sculpture,” at the Museum of Conceptual Art by drinking beer, mounting a stepladder and relieving himself into an echoing iron washtub.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Of Beer and Beasts
Since cattle were first introduced to Japan centuries ago as draft animals, the rugged terrain of the country has effectively isolated the herds of different regions from one another. Separate feeding techniques and distinct breeds have arisen in the different areas. And in one region, Kobe, the result is a breed of cattle called Wagyu that produces the legendary Kobe beef for the table.
Kobe beef commands an extravagant price. A steak can set you back $300. The meat is extraordinarily tender, flavorful and marbled. Diners compare it to foie gras. And to what do the Japanese beef ranchers ascribe this exceptional quality? Beer, of course.
The cattle are fed beer daily, especially during the steamy summer months when beer is thought to stimulate their appetite. And regular massages with a rub of saké–another brewed beverage, of course–relieves stress. The ranchers believe that the quality of the meat is assured if the cattle are kept relaxed and content.
Nobody better appreciates what it took for partners Kevin Head and Brad Martens to put 50 beers on tap in their Missoula, MT, bar called the Rhinoceros than the man who installed their draft system.
“These guys came to me with the dream, basically,” said Mark Waiss of Earl’s Distributing in Missoula. Waiss used nearly half a mile of draft lines, 600 clamps and, of course, 50 of everything associated with the taps themselves.
In some states, distributors may pay to install lines or at least help bar owners, but the Rhinoceros financed the whole project itself. In order to expand from 14 taps to 50 in 1994, the Rhino’s owners bought the apartment behind the bar, installed a new walk-in cooler, and added the new system. It cost $30,000.
Those not sure where Missoula is might be surprised to learn how “beer hip” the influence of Northwest breweries has made the town of 40,000-plus. Even so, a bar with 50 taps in western Montana is still pretty bold. “It put us on the map,” Head said.
The Great Australian Beer Barter Caper
During the Korean War, I was a flight radio operator with a United States Marine air transport squadron, flying hither and yon between most of the military airports round the Pacific Rim.
At the Seoul airport, there were stationed some Royal Australian Air Force people. At least that’s what I think they were. During many conversations, it was determined that they had access to some really fine Australian beer. Some of us radio operators were determined to acquire a case for our own misuse.
What we had to barter was booze: Canadian Club (CC) whiskey and Seagram’s VO, for which we paid a paltry $1.25 a fifth. We also had milk. Not good milk, you understand, but reconstituted dry milk. Of course, we didn’t mention that fact, and our trading partners may have concluded that it was fresh. I wouldn’t know. Our contacts with these guys were intermittent and our negotiators changed with each flight.
We assumed that, since the Aussies obviously had plenty of this beer and had neither milk nor whiskey, they would bargain readily. We offered two bottles of CC and two quarts of milk as openers. They just laughed. “Yew Yanks want a whole case of our good beer for that. Har, har, har.”
OK, it was cheap booze and stolen milk, so we could up the ante without much trouble. We offered three units. The Australians accused us of penuriousness. They talked long and hard on the health benefits, fine taste and great value of their beer.
Another trip, another offer: four units, which we felt was more than ample. There was a long discussion about what bad people we were, and how we were taking advantage of their generosity and allied good will. We accused them of parsimony and bad faith. They wanted a whole case of whiskey and at least six cartons of milk.
We finally decided that six units was the limit. Our man made the offer and left them standing there. Two days later, they confirmed that our offer would be accepted, but we had definitely worn our welcome out at their canteen.
We were notified that the case of beer was ready for us to pick up as soon as we delivered the milk and booze. The great day arrived a week later. They had a forklift with a huge wooden box on it. It turned out that the “case” held 96 Imperial quarts of Foster’s lager.
Now we had whole ’nother problem–how to smuggle a huge case of contraband beer aboard a C-54 aircraft without the pilots becoming aware, and without the ground handlers noticing. We had to share with the navigation department, the flight engineer and his friends, and others at our Seoul Marine detachment, plus the air freight people at the Seoul airport. What was left was probably closer to a modern case of maybe 12 quarts.
Life is short, and there is no beer in heaven. We must drink it here.
A Collector among Collectors
Dave Gausepohl’s family explains his life-long love of breweriana with a family tradition: after baptism, each Gausepohl child was given a tiny taste of Scotch in a special baptismal spoon. But with Dave, they were out of Scotch and had to use beer.
Whatever the explanation, the fascination grabbed him early, and “Beer Dave” started collecting breweriana in the fourth grade. His sister brought home a 7-ounce Pabst beer can from a party, where the host had 20 different beer cans on display behind the bar. The next day, 9-year-old Dave walked down the highway and back, and returned with a cartful of cans.
Unlike many collectors, Gausepohl has never specialized, so while he may not be the record holder for any particular form of brewery collectable, he has an impressive selection. It fills his house and garage. Fortunately, Gausepohl is blessed with a photographic memory that allows him to keep track of the thousands of items, as well as to piece together the histories of the breweries he documents.
“I think of myself as a historian, trying to figure out the lineage of these old breweries. It’s a quest, not a hobby; otherwise, there’d be winners and losers,” he says of his passion.
For years he was “the little kid bouncing around the collectors meetings”–too young at first to actually drink any of the beer. Gausepohl made so many friends among older collectors that he now has “a set of parents in every town.” Among his closest friends are legendary collectors Herb and Helen Haydock, whose million-plus item collection was purchased in part by Miller. They visit breweries together, and Gausepohl has visited over 1,200 in the United States alone.
Gausepohl regrets that he doesn’t see young enthusiasts joining the collecting ranks as he once did. Squeamishness about alcohol issues may be inhibiting many young collectors from joining a field that, in the end, is less about beer drinking and more about a celebration of the richness of American history.
Most Creative Use of Beer in Service of Another Goal Altogether
When they’re not on stage, members of the Rolling Boil Blues Band work for breweries (Mark Cohen, Mendocino; Bruce Joseph, Anchor; and Ben Myers, Grant’s); write about beer (Tom Dalldorf and Jim Leff, Celebrator Beer News); or homebrew (Scotty Moore). They use the connection to beer as their flimsy excuse to play raucous beer-themed R&B at beer festivals and, now, to release a live CD recorded at Pyramid Brewery.
The band shapes classic material to its own beery ends. How else could you get away with singing the line, “Gotta flocculate”?
Easiest sing-along on the album: “Beer” sung to the tune of “Tequila,” with the single word of lyrics in the original (Da-da-da, Da-da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-DA “TEQUILA!”) replaced with the single word “beer” (Da-da-da, Da-da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-DA “BEER!”).
You can order a copy by calling 510-670-0121. But that would only encourage them.
The 1814 Brewery Disaster
Vivid images of burly policemen smashing barrels of illicit beer are part of our culture’s memory of Prohibition. But there’s another smashed beer barrel of historical note. Well, no, it wasn’t actually a barrel so much as it was this bloody great gi-normous vat of beer.
The year was 1814, an excellent year for Great Britain and the rest of Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte, the 19th-century butcher of Europe, was finally run to ground. Beer flowed, people celebrated.
The porter breweries in London were in a sort of arms race, fiercely competing to meet ever-growing demand for that most wonderful of dark ales. Each strove to construct the largest vats. The brewer Meux built one approximately 60 feet wide by 23 feet high. At a pre-opening promotion, 200 distinguished guests dined inside it. In 1795, the brewery added another monstrous one with a capacity of 20,000 barrels.
Perhaps it was inevitable, but, in that wondrous year of 1814, disaster struck in Tottenham Court Road, London, at the Horse Shoe Brewery. One of these huge vats burst its seams in much the same way as a ruptured dam erupts. The raging torrent of porter collapsed the brewery walls and swept away nearby houses.
A newspaper reported that eight unfortunate people died, either drowned, mortally injured, suffocated by the fumes (most likely by carbon dioxide released from the agitated beer), or from alcohol poisoning. Did some extremely stupid person just dive into the surging beer, figuring he’d unexpectedly won a jackpot, and furiously gulp his way to death?
For those eight, and the ill-starred ones whose homes were swept away, 1814 turned out to be a very crummy year indeed.
Great Beer Bars
“If I wanted to ship nuclear triggers to Saddam Hussein, I’d be told, ‘no problem.’ Say the word ‘beer’ and the whole machinery comes to a screeching halt,” Maurice Coja, founder of the Brickskeller Restaurant in Washington, DC, groused a few years back.
When you maintain a beer list of 800+ brands and are continually seeking exotic new beers for your monthly tastings, you occasionally run into roadblocks. Customs once held up a shipment of Wickler Pilsner from Germany because the paperwork failed to note how many threads per inch were in the accompanying t-shirts. Coja had to have the t-shirts burned to spring the beer.
During the 1970s, before the burgeoning number of microbreweries swelled the restaurant’s beer list, the Brickskeller sent its own refrigerated truck on West Coast runs to pick up new beers. The Brick was the first bar in DC to carry Coors and Anchor Steam, not to mention early microbrews like New Albion Ale and River City Gold. The restaurant set up its own importing business, Wide World Imports, to bring the unique beers of De Dolle Brouwers (“The Mad Brewers”) in Belgium to the United States.
Occasionally, the Brick will feature a beer you can’t get anywhere else in the world. The staff once whipped up an impromptu oyster stout by pureeing a batch of the bivalves, immersing them in liquor, and adding the mixture to a keg of Imperial stout from Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland. Beer chunky style was, well, interesting.
Less well known are the Brickskeller’s charitable efforts. The restaurant since 1992 has held an auction after each tasting to raise funds for Children’s Hospital. Restaurant manager and co-owner Dave Alexander estimates that the Brick has contributed over $63,000.
Believe in Your Beer
Kip Bruzzone would love to be selling the famous Budweiser Budvar beer from the Czech city of Ceske Budejovice, but he’s just happy to be able to introduce and reintroduce beer drinkers to a taste he experienced in Vienna more than 20 years ago.
“We’re going to sell it based on the beer in the bottle, not the name,” Bruzzone said shortly after the first shipments of a beer called Czechvar reached California in November. Czechvar, brewed in Ceske Budejovice, contains the same ingredients as the legendary Budvar and is said to taste the same.
However, Bruzzone and others selling the beer must leave it to consumers to draw their own conclusions. Anheuser-Busch owns the Budweiser trademark in the United States. A-B and Budvar continue to fight trademark battles around the world and those battles make it no easier for beer drinkers to taste the beers side by side.
Bruzzone, who imports the beer for western half of the United States, first approached the Czech government–which then owned the Budvar brewery–in 1980 about shipping the beer to his customers. He continued to lobby four different Czech administrations, saw the brewery privatized, became friends with the brewers, and learned the intricacies of the legal roadblocks.
“I knew that it was probably going to be a waste of my time, but I wanted to see it through,” he said. “I believed in the beer and I believed in the project.”
In the early days of the craft brewing movement (early- to mid-1980s) it was very difficult in upstate New York to get your hands on any of the new micro beers from the West Coast. Brands like Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Redhook and others could only be had if you were lucky enough to make a trip out west or had a friend willing to lug a six-pack back on a plane.
One Christmas season, I came up with the idea to call different West Coast brewers and offer to trade them some F. X. Matt’s Season’s Best in exchange for some of their winter brew and perhaps some of their regular brands as well. I was able to find several brewers willing to trade and promptly sent off a number of packages with images of beers I had only read about dancing in my head.
At about the same time, upstate New York went into a wicked cold spell. It was well below zero at night and barely into double digits during the day. When the beer started to arrive, it was almost all frozen and the caps of many bottles had popped off. There was only one thing to do: gather my co-workers and friends and drink the beer as it thawed.
Surprisingly, most of the beers were still quite good, and I got to turn a large number of people on to great beer. When the holidays rolled around the next year, people started asking when I was going to start receiving beer care packages.