The Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group Beers Before My Time-Pt. 2: Red Wolf

Right around the same time AB came out with the Elk Mountain beers, the beers I discussed in my last post, they also released a new amber lager called Red Wolf.

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The origin of this beer is what I consider a classic AB moment, at least the way I heard the story. Back in late 1994 or early 1995, someone at AB caught wind that Miller would be releasing a beer called Red Dog, and this caused quite a ruckus. Executives at AB always paid a lot of attention to what Miller was doing, what kind of beers they were releasing, and then tried to find ways to release beers specifically to compete with those new Miller beers. Miller was AB’s top competition at the time, and really was the only brewer standing in the way of AB reaching that magic 100 million barrel mark and becoming 50% of the US beer market. Some examples of the beers AB developed to compete with Miller included the Michelob Golden Draft beer, which was specifically targeted at Miller Genuine Draft (both “MGD”, get it?), and all the “bottled” draft beers (read: “unpasteurized and sterile/ aseptically packaged”) that came out after Miller started focusing an their “draft” beer in a can/bottle. These brands were called “Strategic” brands or “Competitive” brands, and it was usually the way AB approached innovation, which, for someone like me, who was trying to be creative, kind of sucked. The competition between these two companies was fierce at times. Another fuel addition to the fire was that Red Dog was marketed as being brewed by the “Plank Road Brewery”-this kind of subterfuge was something that AB railed against back in the day, which kind of surprised me when they started coming out with their own stealth “breweries” about the time I was leaving. Thank goodness I didn’t leave to go to Miller, as anyone who announced they were leaving AB for Miller was quickly escorted off the premises by security and not allowed back on site.

So in the case of Red Wolf, the way the story goes, is that some executive level people found out Miller was going to release a new beer called Red Dog. And mistakenly, they assumed Red Dog would be a red beer. This was at the time were ambers and reds were taking off with microbrews, so the logic made sense, but was absolutely wrong. Once that assumption had been made, the mission then became to beat Miller to it by coming out with their own red beer, the beer that became “Red Wolf”, a name that was a direct shot at the name “Red Dog”. At the time, I heard that this was the fastest new beer rollout in AB’s history, it was on the market in weeks, or maybe 1-2 months after the concept was developed. I can’t imagine what these AB folks thought when they found out Miller’s Red Dog Beer was a standard American Lager! And I remember in subsequent taste panels, many folks at AB suspected it had been formulated to taste like Budweiser.

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For the recipe, Red Wolf used two of AB’s American Lager brands blended for the base beer and caramel malt extract to provide the color and flavor. This was a malt extract that came from the UK, and I remember the beer having a distinctly sweet caramel flavor. As an interesting side note, using a core beer as the base to build other beers like this was not usually the way AB did things at the time, most brands were brewed in the brewhouse as their own brand. So yes, Budweiser, Busch and Michelob all had their own specific grain recipes, hop recipes, and brewhouse recipes. Same with Bud Light, Natural Light and Busch Light. So the Homer Simpson Duff Beer gag where the same beer supplies several “different” faucets was really not the AB way.

 

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Looking at my recipe spreadsheet that just has the basics of these brands, AB characterized Red Wolf as an American Red Lager, a style that didn’t exist prior to its release, unless one counts Carlsberg’s Elephant Red, which wasn’t really an “American” Lager. Grains in Red Wolf included 2-Row Malt, 6-Row Malt, grits and rice. This was reflective of the 2 beers that were used for the blend, AB didn’t brew any beers where both rice and corn were used in the brewhouse process. For the hop bill, it just says “lots” which means a lot of varieties, not that it was brewed with a large quantity of hops. This was standard AB practice for their American lagers: 6-10+ hop varieties could be used in any single brand, and the recipes could change frequently, which was why no one wanted to publicize the hops in Red Wolf. It was 5.5% abv, 15 IBUs and 15 °L in color. I remember the first time I tasted Red Wolf, it was in the Brewmaster’s taste panel at AB’s Ft. Collins Brewery, and I thought it was godawful sweet. But in later tastes it was more balanced with a crisper finish, so I believe the Caramel Malt Extract addition had been reduced a bit.

When I got to the Specialty Brewing Group in 1995, Red Wolf had been out for a few months and there were some big marketing pushes behind it. This beer had more merchandise created for it than any other brand in the Specialty Brewing Group portfolio. It was a very heavily marketed beer, I still have my Red Wolf jacket and Red Wolf gym bag at home. The beer itself appealed to (some) craft beer drinkers, and also appealed to the slightly more adventurous of the American Lager fan base. It was the best selling release from the Specialty Brewing Group for a while (soon after Michelob Amber Bock was released though, it overtook Red Wolf). But for a while, Red Wolf was very hot, and there was serious talk of doing some brand extensions on it-beers like Black Wolf, Brown Wolf, White Wolf and Gold Wolf were discussed as potential extensions of the Red Wolf family.  But the expansion never came to fruition, primarily because of the development of the Michelob Specialty line, which I will discuss in a future post.

 

 

The Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group Beers before my time-Pt 1: Elk Mountain Family

There were several “Specialty” beers that were developed by the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group before I joined the team in 1995. Here’s summary of the Elk Mountain beers.

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These beers were named after AB’s Hop Farm in Bonner’s Ferry Idaho, near the Canada border. It was beautiful location, and AB grew Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang there, probably the only place that successfully brewed Saaz on American soil, and used those hops in Budweiser and several other beers. It was a cool story, a great farm, and I got to visit the hop farm with a bunch of beer writers in 1997 (more on that later). Anyway, it seemed logical that specialty beers focused on hops got named after this hop farm.

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Elk Mountain Amber Ale: This beer really got me excited for our fledgling new products efforts-I was still a Supervisor at the Ft. Collins CO brewery when this beer was first released in 1995, and I remember going to a special tasting after work in our tour center. As I tasted it, I remember thinking-“holy crap-someone in St. Louis figured out how to use hops like a microbrewer would!” This beer was malty and caramelly and had a significant citrus and pine blast of Cascade hops. This beer made a pretty good impression on beer drinkers-I don’t remember seeing any bad reviews, and I think it lasted about 3 years before finally giving way to the Michelob Specialty lineup. I remember some of my hardcore hunter coworkers in Ft. Collins complaining that the animal depicted on the label was not an Elk…

Pretty simple recipe really, it was 80% 2-Row Malt and 20% 40 °L Crystal malt. Hopping in the kettle was Willamette (an AB standard bittering hop at the time), Hallertau from the Elk Mountain Farm in Idaho, and Cascade. The beer was fermented with NCYC 1044 yeast, an English Ale strain that flocculated really well, and then was dry-hopped with Cascade at 0.25 lbs/bbl, tame by today’s standards, but the beer was one of the hoppiest beers I ever tasted from AB. Starting gravity was 14.5 °P, terminal gravity was 3.2 °P, 5.6% abv, 20 °L color, and my records show 25 IBU, though I think it may have started closer to 35 IBUs before being reduced later.  (As a side note, Doug Muhleman, who was a Brewing Director and then VP of Brewing when I was in St. Louis, was a big proponent of low IBU’s-he felt beers lower in bitterness sell better-his quote was “1,000,000 bbls increase in sales for every point of IBU drop”, referring of course to the American Lager style of beer). Elk Mountain Amber was brewed in the Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH breweries, and was the first ale AB brewed in almost 100 years.

Elk Mtn Red

Elk Mountain Red Lager: this beer had a similar malt bill to the Amber Ale, but used only hops from Elk Mountain Farms-Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang. Probably closest to a Vienna Lager in style, this beer was too crystal malt forward to my tastes, and got a little sweet after a pint. Some interesting recipe tidbits-it was decoction mashed, and was fermented with AB’s house lager strain. 12 °P OG, 2.95 °P TG, 4.9% abv, 20 IBU and 16 °L color.

Elk Mountain Harvest

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1995 Elk Mountain Harvest:

This was a special beer we brewed in the fall of 1995, right after I joined the group, and it’s claim to fame was that it was dry-hopped with fresh hops from the Elk Mountain Farm. AB called the hops “baby hops” because they were harvested earlier than normal-something that a lot of brewers and hop growers are looking at right now. Could this have been one of the first wet-hopped beers of the modern craft brewing era? Almost Pilsner like, this golden ale was bright, crisp, and had a really nice peppery spicy hop character. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was all malt, had a small amount of crystal malt and some wheat malt. Elk Mountain Harvest Ale was only a small batch and wasn’t released to the public, only given to our Distributors, though the neck label hints that it may be brewed again in 1996 for public release, which never happened. Because we never brewed it again, and because I liked the beer, I remember using this recipe to form the basis for the later release of Michelob Pale Ale.

American Hop Ale and 1996 Winter Brew: The recipes

I was straightening up the bookshelf in my office today and found an old spiral bound notebook that I used to log my old home brewing recipes in.  And as a nice surprise, I found tucked between the pages some recipe summary spreadsheets on some of the beers I’ve been discussing recently that I was involved with at AB in the 1990s. I thought maybe I’d share a couple of these.

American Hop Ale:

This was one of my favorite beers we brewed in The Specialty Brewing Group. The last of the American Originals, it was a deep amber/brown ale, malty, but not sweet, with an intense hop bitterness and floral, spicy hop aroma. Without a doubt, the most aggressively hopped beer we released while I was in the group.

Grain:
91% American 2-Row malt,
8% 40 dL Briess Caramel malt
1% Briess Black Patent Malt

Mashing:
The mashing profile is described as an “Upward Infusion w/ Reverse Boiling Water Pumpback”. That’s a mouthful, and the German term for it-that the old school German Brewmasters at AB used: “Hochkochmaishverfahrven” (forgive any spelling errors-I’m going off a 20 year old memory here!) was even worse. To understand what this means, you need to understand AB’s brewing process a bit:

At AB, most brands were mashed in at a fairly low temperature for protein rest, and a cereal boiling process was used in a separate cooker. In what AB called the American Double Mash process, the rice or corn after being boiled a short time to liquefy the starches, was pumped back to the mash vessel containing the malt, and that process, coupled with steam flow to the jackets on the mash vessel, helped raise the overall mash temperature to the desired conversion temperature. This is very similar to the traditional German decoction mashing technique.

The problem with this technique is that it produced a very fermentable wort, meaning it didn’t leave behind a lot of dextrins and other complex carbohydrates that an ale brewer would get using a traditional infusion mash profile, as was common in craft brewing in those days. So the specialty beers made using the traditional AB mashing schedule came out thin and too dry, and lacked mouthfeel. To fix this situation, Frank Vadurro, Sr. Asst Brewmaster in Merrimack, NH, Denny Franz who ran the Corporate testing program out of St. Louis, and Al Linnebach, who was running the pilot brewery (RPB) at the time, devised this process in which the thick malt mash was pumped into a second mash vessel containing only water that was at boiling temperature. It’s very similar to the jump mash process described in Kunze’s excellent  Technology of Brewing and Malting. The result was that the mash almost instantaneously increased to the proper conversion temperature, bypassing the beta amylase window (144-149°F) that results in highly fermentable wort. It was a neat technique to get some body and mouthfeel in these beers, and we used it for a lot .

Hopping:
Not a lot of detail available on my sheet, but the hops used were Cluster and American Fuggle (which is the same hop as Willamette. Legally, for labeling purposes, they are interchangeable). The beer was then dry hopped with 3/4 lb/bbl Fuggles. I remember we tried Cluster on a pilot brew and felt it was a little too catty for this beer.

Fermentation:
Yeast was NCYC 1044 Ale yeast. I don’t remember exact fermentation temperature but I think it was around 72 °F.

Analytical Targets:

OG: 14.8 °P
TG: 4.5 °P
IBU: 50+
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L

1996 Anheuser-Busch Winter Brew

As discussed in the last post, this was the second, and arguably the best, Winter/Holiday beer we brewed while I was in the Specialty Brewing Group. Here’s a recipe summary:

Grain:
68% 2 Row Malt
19% 40 °L Briess caramel malt
10% 20 °L Munich Malt
3% Briess Chocolate Malt

Mashing:
The mashing profile was the upward infusion process similar as described above for American Hop Ale

Hopping:
Willamette, Cascade, and Elk Mountain Farms Idaho-grown Hallertau and Saaz. I wish I had record of which hops were added early and which were added late.

Fermentation:
AB Lager yeast strain, probably at about 55 °F for primary, then cold lagered at 40-45 °F for 3+weeks

Analytical Targets
OG: 13.6 °P
TG: 4.95 °P
IBU: 2
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L

 

Anheuser-Busch Christmas and Winter Brews of the mid 1990s

Merry Christmas!

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The lights hung at the St. Louis Brewery at Christmas time were always magical to me.

Most brewers know this fact: call a winter seasonal beer a “Christmas” beer or “Holiday” beer, and you can’t give the stuff away the day after Christmas. It’s one reason why Stone Brewing Co. has never really done a Holiday Seasonal , and I don’t expect we ever will (the Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12 is the possible exception-but that had additional staying power because it was part of a series).  Anheuser-Busch felt the same way, and experienced this very real effect after the release of their 1st holiday beer in a long time, the 1995 Christmas Brew Beer. It stopped selling very quickly after the holiday season, and there was a fair amount of inventory that eventually had to be destroyed. After that, the holiday beers we brewed were called “Winter”, which still suffers from the same seasonal effect, but not to such a large degree.

I worked on 4 Holiday beers at Anheuser Busch-in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. I honestly don’t remember a heck of a lot about the brewing and recipes for three of them, but I love telling the story of one in particular.

CHRISTMAS BREW 1995

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This beer’s development started in the late summer of 1995, a few months after I had moved to St. Louis to join Corporate Brewing/Brewing Process Technology/The Specialty Brewing Group. Dan, my predecessor in New Products, spearheaded this project from the office of the VP of Brewing, and Paul and I worked on putting this concept from Dan and Directors and VP level Brewmasters together. This was the first Christmas beer that AB had done in years, if not decades. All I really remember about this one is that it was all malt, had a nice amber color, and a balanced and slightly aggressive hop profile, with some late hopping intended to emphasize pine flavors.

The back label text: “In the 1890’s, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.These beers are offered to friends and customers. We are proud to bring back this tradition with a limited bottling of Christmas Brew 1995″.

SPECIAL WINTER BREW 1996

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I remember we worked very closely with Corporate Brewing Directors and and the VP of Brewing on this one. This beer was re-named Winter Brew to avoid the intense seasonality of Christmas beers. I don’t remember much about the recipe, except it was again an amber/brown lager, more in line with a Muenchener Dunkel, not very hoppy, with a really nice rich and smooth malt character. I remember being very pleased with the end result, and one of my lasting memories about this project was that VP of Brewing Gerhardt Kraemer was very happy with it and congratulated us on it.

Note that both the 1995 and 1996 beers were packaged in the same bottles used for the American Originals.

The back label text: “”At the turn of the century, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.We are proud to continue this tradition with a limited bottling of our 1996 Special Winter Brew. I’ve brewed this beer to be a rich, flavorful lager that’s perfect for the celebrations of the season.”-Gerhard A. Kraemer, Head Brewmaster”.

MICHELOB WINTER BREW SPICED ALE:

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This 1997 Holiday beer had the best label and the most convoluted story. I can laugh about it now, but this beer was brutal to develop, and caused a few sleepiness nights.

By the Fall of 1997, The American Originals beers were either gone or on their last legs. Because of the huge success of Michelob Amber Bock,  Marketing was putting a huge focus on expanding the Michelob lineup with a series of specialty beers-more on those beers in an upcoming post. It’s worth noting that a new Specialty Brewing Group marketing person was on board, and the shift from the American Originals to the Michelob lineup was a very calculated move.

New Products was normally given one brew a week at the 10 Bbl the Research Pilot Brewery (RPB) attached to the the main St. Louis Brewery, and if I remember correctly, at the time they were brewing 10 brews total per week. Most of what they brewed were variations and tests on Budweiser-some really cool beers-single hop variety Budweiser and the like. Since we had reasonably frequent access to the RPB brewing schedule, we set a goal for ourselves to pilot brew at least one example of every recognized beer style in the RPB. We figured if we did this, we’d learn a lot about each style and perhaps have some good recipes in our back pocket, because there were many times when the new product releases came at you fast, and there wasn’t enough time to really run a lot of trials to finalize the recipe.

At some point in 1996 or 1997 I came up with a recipe for a Scotch Ale that the RPB brewed for us. It was really tasty strong, malty ale, and became a favorite of August Busch III’s-the story was that he often poured the beer at his house. In fact, I know we brewed it a couple of more times at the RPB so it would be available if he wanted it. I’ll share much more about that beer in a later post, but the point is when we were given the news that the 1997 Winter beer would be part of the Michelob Family, we suggested this Scotch Ale, and everyone involved, all the way up to VP level executives, agreed on that direction. So this beer seemed a no-brainer, especially since it was confirmed that AAB III already liked it, because getting his approval on a new beer was often the hardest part of the process. And we already had approval from all other high level management people, because they had already tasted the beer.

We had starting brewing full sized 400 bbl batches of the Michelob Holiday Scotch Ale in Merrimack, we had purchased and shipped in all the malts, sent in some copy for the label and marketing material, and everything was moving forward very nicely.  And when the first batch was in the aging tank, Marketing pulled an abrupt about face, and told us they wanted a Spiced Ale instead. This was a definite “WTF” moment, and we tried and tried and couldn’t get them to see the logic and agree to go back to the original plan. We needed up dumping the in progress batches.

So it was already late in the game-it was probably September by this time, and the Winter beer had to be in distribution by late October. Paul, Steve and I quickly put together some kind of traditional spiced ale, using spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove, and we asked the RPB to brew it as a priority. 2 weeks later, we were tasting in the Corporate Taste Panel-called the “220 Panel”, with Doug Muhleman, who had taken Gerhardt Kraemer’s spot as VP of Brewing. Doug tasted the beer, looked at us and said: “guys, this beer tastes like a Betty Crocker Spice Cake. If we’re going to do a spiced ale, I want us to use more exotic spices. Let’s not be so predictable”. I actually liked his feedback and agreed with him, though I still hated the idea of doing a spiced beer at all.

So we quickly came up with another recipe that used things like Cardamom, Coriander, and a couple of other eastern spices, and 2 weeks later we were again sitting in the 220 Taste Panel, and tasted the beer with Doug. This time, he liked it, which was a good thing, because we were sweating bullets-we were quickly running out of time to get this beer recipe sent out, get the beer brewed, fermented and bottled in Merrimack in time for the scheduled release. The phone calls I got from Marketing and the brewing team at Merrimack were relentless. They needed to know what the beer was and if it would be ready in time.

The next step in the taste approval process, after VP of Brewing approval, was the Marketing and Sales Team, and ultimately the beer ended up at August Busch’s desk for final approval. We could not brew this beer for real until we had his approval. In what I consider a classic AB moment, when he tasted the beer, he got in touch with Doug Muhleman and said something to the effect of “What the hell is is this!? When I drink a spiced Christmas Beer, I want something with cinnamon. And clove. And nutmeg! Something traditional!” How ironic, how deflating, and how frustrating it was to learn of AAB III’s comments and being faced with going back to the drawing board.

So we quickly went back to the original recipe with some modifications Doug made while playing around in his kitchen at home. I do think he enjoyed this level of involvement with creating a beer, and I remember he found this crazy liquid brown sugar that we added to the beer that give it a really nice molasses touch. I know we used a little chocolate malt in it and plenty of 40L crystal malt. The powdered spices were all added during the kettle boil. We got the beer brewing in Merrimack and made the release date by the skin of our teeth. And unfortunately, by most accounts, the beer was a flop. Certainly not as popular as the 1996 Winter Brew had been.

The beer itself was a moderately strong brown ale, with pronounced spices, followed by a cocoa and molasses finish. Not one of my favorite beers that I worked on, for a lot of reasons.

The Neck Label Text: Left: “The addition of spices during the brewing process is one of the Brewmaster’s seasonal traditions, as spices can add excitement and festiveness to a brew.” Right: “The traditional spices used in this winter offering add a unique contrast to the sweetness emanating from the caramel and chocolate malts used in brewing this hearty ale.”

 

1998 MICHELOB WINTER BREW ALL MALT LAGER 

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I remember very little about this beer, Winter of 1998 when was I was transitioning out of new products to some extent-I had been moved to work as an assistant to a Brewing Director for 5 months before being shipped out to the St. Louis Brewery in May of 1998. I still had my hands in new products for a while, as I was transitioning out and the new team was transitioning in.

Like the 3 previous beers, this 1998 Holiday beer was brewed in Merrimack, NH. It was a moderately strong  amber lager, most likely brewed with a lot of 40L crystal malt. But I really don’t remember much at all about this one. Looking back on it, I wonder why we didn’t make this beer an ale, like the previous year’s beer.

The Neck Label: Left: “Winterbrew is an all-malt brew with a  full-bodied taste and a rich amber color. It’s moderate hopping provides a nice balance to the sweet taste of the malt.” Right: “The use of generous amounts of specialty malts and an extended layering period make this a truly special brew, a great match for your holiday feasts”.

This was the last Holiday beer for a few years-in the early 2000s, AB started doing them again, I remember a high end, higher alcohol Budweiser beer in beautiful 750 ml bottle, and the next year a Michelob vanilla/ and bourbon barrel aged beer, but I wasn’t involved in those projects.

 

The 4 American Originals: Beers From My Past. Chapter 2

 

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Now it’s time to talk about the beers that were introduced under the American Originals umbrella in the Fall of 1995: Faust, Muenchener, and Black and Tan, and later, American Hop Ale. Unfortunately, I don’t have any records of the actual recipes used for these beers, but I’ll talk about what I remember, which may be a bit hazy, it was almost 20 years ago!

faust posterFaust Bottle

FAUST:

Faust Lager was first brewed in 1885, for a friend of Adolphus Busch named Tony Faust, who owned Faust Oyster House and Restaurant in St. Louis. The restaurant had a long history and several versions of the place existed since the 1800s. When I lived in St. Louis, there was a Faust’s Restaurant downtown in the Adams Mark Hotel (now a Hyatt Regency), a spot where I did a couple of beer tastings for the American Originals, and once had a really nice meal there with my wife. I believe the restaurant is now closed.

The German legend of Faust involves the story of a man who, in search for the meaning of life, sold his soul to, or made some sort of deal with the Devil, represented by Mephistopheles. Later  a famous play written by Goethe, it’s a standard of German literature. So Adolphus Busch’s inclusion of Mephitopheles in the branding of the beer makes perfect sense.

The beer itself was a very popular beer in its time and lasted well after the end of Prohibition. I remember visiting swap markets and antique shops in the St Louis area when I lived there in the 1990s and seeing many (empty) bottles of Faust for sale.

The re-introduced Faust Lager was my favorite of the first 3 American Originals. It was all malt: American 2 Row malt and a malt called Hi-Dried Malt, which was a 6-Row malt that was kilned to about 20°L, similar to a light Munich malt. We called the Hi-Dried Malt “dry-roasted” in the marketing materials, which I always found odd (we could have called it kiln-roasted), and expressed concern that people might think we were using peanuts in our beer. Faust also used a blend of German, Czech and American Hops. Unfortunately I don’t remember all of the hops used, but I know Czech Saaz and Cascade were part of the mix. This beer, when fresh, had a nice toasty malt character, and a pronounced floral hop aromatic, and pretty substantial bitterness for the time (especially for AB). If I remember correctly, the IBU target was 28, and the color target was 7-9 dL.  Unfortunately, this beer aged very poorly in the bottle. The hops faded quickly and the toasty malt character evolved into a very grainy and harsh note.

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BLACK & TAN

Black & Tan was a traditional porter, which caused a lot of confusion when we were doing events for these beers. I remember frequently having to explain that this beer wasn’t a blend of two beers, like the classic Black & Tan made from Bass and Guinness, or like Yuengling’s Black & Tan.

The name Black & Tan from 1899 had unknown origins. We had two stories we told about the origin of the name, though we were never clear which (if either) was the truth. The first was simply that the beer poured black, with a tan head, which made the most sense to me. The second story, from AB Corporate Historian Dr. Bill Vollmar, suggested the beer was named after the British Military force that was stationed in Ireland during the war for Irish independence-they were nicknamed Black and Tans because of the color of their uniforms.

Bill Vollmar had two full bottles of Black & Tan from before Prohibition in the archives, and he often jokingly offered one to me to open and drink. I was tempted, but it felt almost sacrilegious to do this, and Bill also insisted that if we opened it, I’d have to drink the entire bottle, which scared me a bit. It would have been great if we could have tasted it and analyzed the beer as well, but we never did.

Black & Tan Porter was all malt, brewed with 5 malts, including chocolate and black malt, crystal malt, and I believe hi-dried malt again. It was pretty bitter, maybe 35-40 IBUs. I always thought it was bit harsh on the finish, and felt we made a much better Porter when we did Michelob Porter a couple of years later. That said, it was a pretty aggressive beer for Anheuser-Busch, it was the second ale (after Elk Mountain Ale) that we made in the 1990s.

The ale yeast strain we used most often at Anheuser-Busch was an English strain, NCYC 1044, which reputedly was developed for experiments with continuous fermentation processes in England in the 1950s or 1960s. It was a really hearty yeast, produced a lot of fruity esters, and had the advantage that it settled out, or flocculated, strongly when the fermentation was complete. This was really important at Anheuser-Busch, because the ales were made in Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH, and both breweries had old-fashioned rectangular fermenters (we called them “shoebox” fermenters).  A yeast with good flocculating characteristics was critical for being able to recover enough yeast to repitch more brews.

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MUENCHENER

I hesitated to include this beer, primarily because this beer was simply a blend of the Faust and the Black&Tan. This method was something that the VP of Brewing wanted to try-he wanted use the Black & Tan as a “stock ale” to blend with other beers to create new beers. Contrary to what might be conventional wisdom, Anheuser-Busch did not normally use this practice. Every beer, with a couple of exceptions, was brewed as it’s own brand in the brewhouse, each with a separate recipe, different malts and different hops. Other large American Lager brewers often blended beers and/or labeled the same beer with several different brand labels, but AB didn’t do this. So the Muenchener was a pretty big departure. It was a nice beer, I’ll give it that. The blend worked, and I enjoyed it.

The original Muenchener (aka Columbian Muenchener) was first brewed in 1893 and was awarded the “Best Muenchener” in the Columbian World’s Fair Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was definitely inspired by the popular Dunkle beers from Munich.

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The swing-top bottles above were a complete fiasco. Marketing wanted these for special events, which required hours and hours of hand-bottling at the Merrimack brewery. Who knew what the air levels were in these beers, but I bet they were terribly high.

 

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AMERICAN HOP ALE:

Shortly after the first 3 American Originals rolled out, AB’s marketing department wanted to us to start working on the 4th beer. They initially wanted either “White Label Exquisite Pilsner” or “Old Burgundy Lager”. We didn’t have any archive information on either one of these beers, so were a bit unsure on how to approach brewing. I remember being kind of excited to brew the White Label-I looked at it as an opportunity to brew a real hoppy Bohemian Pilsner beer, but that ended up being a no go, because we already had Faust, and marketing didn’t want to add another golden lager to the mix. It didn’t help Old Burgundy Lager’s cause with us brewers that marketing was insisting the beer have a Burgundy wine like character, as opposed to a red color-which is what we assumed inspired the name of the original beer.

After a lot of back and forth, and after also briefly considering other pre-prohibition beers like Union Man’s Lager, and Bock (which was denied because of the presence and popularity of Michelob Amber Bock), I came up with the idea of brewing a version of American Hop Ale, using the two American hop varieties that were available to AB in the 1890s-Cluster and Fuggles. Surprisingly to me, marketing loved this idea. The original 1895 American Hop Ale was a very low alcohol mail order beer, a hop tonic, that was used for medicinal purposes, but I proposed we brew a strong, very hop-forward ale, and that seemed to be a popular direction.

American Hop Ale holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first (and one of the few) beers that I worked on at AB that was exclusively my recipe, and it didn’t get changed, altered, or dumbed down at all as it went up the Corporate approval ladder. It was an all malt beer, brewed with 2-row malt, 40L Crystal (I think) and just a touch of black malt-I believe just under 1%, which gave the beer a beautiful deep red color. We used Cluster and Fuggle hops exclusively, and we had co-workers in the Brewing Process Technology group that had a lot of fun referring to this beer as “Clusterfuggle”. American Hop Ale was likely the most bitter beer AB had ever brewed, coming in at close to 50 IBUs, and was dry-hopped with Fuggles.   The beer was what I envisioned at the time as kind of an English IPA…I’ve learned a lot about English IPAs since then, but back then this beer fit my understanding of the style.

American Hop Ale didn’t last long. The bottle in the picture above was the only bottling run this beer ever had, marketing made the call to make this a “draft-only” product, which sealed its doom. People who tried it gave it great reviews, but the beer never got the exposure of the first three, and by the time it was released, marketing was already moving away from the American Originals concept in favor of the Michelob Specialties.

Happy Holidays!

Next up: The Christmas beers

 

 

Craft vs. Crafty

I changed my mind and wanted to post a link to this article before moving into the beers.

Here’s the craft vs crafty article that started my journey to the past… , written by Daniel Hartis in mid-November.

There is some really good research done for this piece, and I have to say with regards to Anheuser-Busch, the Specialty Brewing Group, and the “Who Really Brews These Beers” campaign, it is accurate-to the best of my recollection, and it was fun for me to go back and think about some of the things we did in the Specialty Brewing Group.

Regarding the “Who Really Brews These Beers” campaign, that was a tough one for me to deal with. I remember watching the Dateline piece on this, and it made me very uncomfortable. The campaign was aimed primarily at two brewers specifically, and I never liked (and still don’t like) to badmouth any other brewer, and always try to refuse to do so. I’ve always preferred to let everyone’s beer speak for itself.

Anheuser-Busch’s intense rivalry with Miller Brewing Co. is no secret, and there are some interesting stories I’ll mention about this rivalry when I start diving into the beers I was involved with. But what really got August Busch III riled up during this period was Sam Adams, mostly because Jim Koch made several claims about impurities and preservatives in American Lagers. This is categorically untrue-American Lagers (at least here in the USA) aren’t brewed with preservatives or impure ingredients, and AB was incredibly focused on the quality of the ingredients they used, even going so far as to own a hop farm in Idaho, several malting facilities and rice processing facilities. Ingredient quality was a huge piece of our intense focus on quality. To imply otherwise was considered the worst insult. The fact that the Sam Adams claims lumped “adjuncts” together with “preservatives” and that much of the Sam Adams beers were brewed in Miller breweries only fueled AAB III’s fire. AB  followed up the Dateline expose with some very targeted negative radio commercials where the “Ghost of Sam Adams” scolded Jim Koch for “lying to consumers” about where his beer was brewed. It was ugly, and I hated it. But I certainly wasn’t in any position to make my opinion heard here.

Obviously, Francine Katz and the Anheuser-Busch PR Department had a lot to do with the content of the Dateline story. But it did have a huge effect on craft brewing, many people feel this piece triggered the bubble-burst of craft beer in the later 1990s.

 

Beers from my past-Pt 1: The Anheuser-Busch American Originals

ABSBGAmerOrig AbAmericanOriginalsBottleglass

I’ve been getting pinged a lot lately in Social Media about the recent re-introduction of Anheuser-Busch’s Faust Lager. This spurred me to go into our garage over the Thanksgiving weekend and pull out a bunch of the stuff I saved from my time in New Products at Anheuser-Busch.  It was a great trip down memory lane, I actually saved quite a bit from that time, including full bottles of just about every beer I worked on in my 3 years in Corporate Brewing and a lot of the marketing materials we developed.  I decided it might be fun to write about these beers and some other beers that I’ve been involved with brewing over the years. This is the first in the series, there will be several more. I’ll try to relay what I remember as the story for each one of these beers-as every beer has it’s own unique history.

In 1995, after 3 years of working as a brewing supervisor in AB’s Ft Collins Brewery, I was asked if I’d be interested in moving to St. Louis and working in Corporate Brewing in Mike Meyer’s Brewing Process Technology Group, which was primarily a brewing engineering projects group, but also had the fledging new products group as well. The brewing managers involved in new products were considered part of Anheuser-Busch’s Specialty Brewing Group-which wasn’t really a separate entity, but included our group and folks from marketing working together to create  the brewing process and marketing campaigns for these new beers.

When I interviewed for the job, AB had just recently released their first forays into Specialty Beers (we did not call them “craft” or “micro brewed”):  Elk Mountain Ale, Elk Mountain Red Lager and Crossroads (a German Hefeweizen) were most certainly inspired by the growing craft brewing movement, while Michelob Amber Bock and Red Wolf were more American Lager style “crossover” beers. More on these beers later.

While I interviewed, I learned about the latest project, The American Originals project-a marketing effort to reintroduce some long forgotten brands from AB’s pre-prohibition portfolio. I loved the hoppy Elk Mountain Ale, and the opportunity to dive into the history of AB and recreate some very interesting beers seemed like a really cool opportunity. So I was thrilled when I was offered the job, and we left Colorado to move to St. Louis.

ABAmericanOriginalsbeerglasses

The original lineup proposed for the American Originals included Faust, Muenchener, Black&Tan, Bock and Union Man’s Favorite Lager.

ABHistoricalBeersList

Here’s a list of lager beer styles brewed by AB in its history. Not all these beers fit into traditional beer style categories, obviously.

When I got to St. Louis, Dan Kahn and Paul Mancuso had already developed test brews and had mostly completed the recipes for the first three American Originals beers: Faust Lager, Muenchener, and Black & Tan Porter. Dan had just been promoted to be the Executive Assistant to Gerhard Kraemer, then VP of Brewing, and I was taking his place on the team. My job was to work with Dan and Paul to finish the recipes and get them out to the Merrimack and Fairfield breweries for brewing.

The story told about the American Originals beers was that AB found old recipes from Adolphus Busch in their archives, and used his handwritten recipes to recreate some of the more flavorful beers that existed before prohibition. But what we brewers actually saw during the development of these beers was just a small notebook of Adolphus Busch’s in which he scribbled down malt and hops for some of these early beers. The notes were very vague, giving pounds of German hops, or American hops, and weights of malts which had very little descriptors. They weren’t recipes by any means, and so the decision was made to brew beers “in the style” of the originals, based on what little recipe information and marketing and tasting comments we had access to. This made for some awkward conversations and interviews about the origins of these beers.

AB had a Corporate Archives room underneath the big tour center in the St. Louis Brewery. And we also had a Corporate Historian, Bill Vollmar, who was heavily involved in developing the campaigns for these beers, and later supported them with travel to the various tastings held in Seattle and Denver. Bill was an interesting guy, he knew his history, and enjoyed traveling around and showing people some of the things he had in the archives, like the old pocketknife that Adolphus Busch used to give out to customers that had a little picture of himself on the inside that could be seen by looking through a small sight glass in the body of the knife.

AbAmerOrigAdolphusBuschLetter

An 1893 letter written by Adolphus Busch copied from the archives. He was complaining about a counterfeit Budweiser being brewed in the west.

ABAmerOriginalsCover

The cover of the American Originals Sell In pamphlet. Most of the beers never made the cut, though there was a lot of interest in White Label Exquisite and Old Burgundy Lager

ABAMerOriginalsBottleLabelsAll

There were a lot of beers that were considered for the American Originals lineup, but eventually only 4 brews were made before the series was canned in favor of the Michelob Specialty Beers Series: Faust, Muenchener, Black &Tan and later, American Hop Ale, which was brewed instead of Old Burgundy Lager or White Label Exquisite because I suggested we brew a really hoppy ale using only American hops that were available in the 1890’s (Cluster and Fuggle). I will write about each of those beers individually in my next post.

Why did the series fail? Lots of reasons, but for one I think the lineup was largely uninteresting to craft beer drinkers. It didn’t help that the first two cities we rolled these beers out to were Denver and Seattle, cities that were already well entrenched in craft brewed ales. Lager beers like Faust or Muenchener had little hope of making a dent in those markets. I question why we didn’t focus these beers in the midwest, they weren’t even available in St. Louis for quite a while after the first release, which made absolutely zero sense to me.

Another reason is simply the dynamics of AB’s marketing department. The marketing team that introduced the American Originals eventually got promoted to bigger and better things, and then new managers were brought in. New managers that wanted to “hit their own home run” as we used to say. They weren’t interested in perpetuating someone else’s project, so they came up with their own ideas. If you look at AB’s specialty beer/new beer releases over the recent years, you will see drastic shifts in direction about every 2 years. A lot of that has to do with the revolving door of the marketing team.

And really, what craft beer aficionado wanted to drink specialty beers from Anheuser-Busch? Very few craft beer fans would even give them a shot. This was a real learning experience for AB, and prompted the investments in Widmer and Redhook later in the 1990’s.

And finally, in the AB culture at that time, everything revolved around Budweiser. We couldn’t talk about these beers on their own, all conversations had to relate back to the Budweiser quality message and the rich traditional German brewing heritage that AB had. While it was a good, strong message, I believe it also derailed any efforts made for these beers to have any substantial impact. Wholesalers had more incentives to place Budweiser, and later, in one of the most disheartening conversations I ever had with marketing, I was told that AB did not want to grow the specialty category.

Next Post: The 4 American Orginals Beers: Faust, Muenchener, Black&Tan, and American Hop Ale.

 

 

 

 

 

The return of Ballantine IPA

ballantine IPA label

While I was researching for my book on IPA, I really gained a huge appreciation for the influence of historical beers on today’s beer styles. Many of these influential beers no longer exist, yet they provided inspiration for many of today’s brewers, and it’s been quite rewarding to learn about many of these beers.

A great case in point is Ballantine IPA. I was somewhat familiar with Ballantine IPA before I started researching the book, mostly through an article that Gregg Glaser wrote for Modern Brewery Age back in 2000 (the text of that article is at the bottom of this post). And as I started researching American IPA brewing, I came to understand exactly how important this beer was. Not only was it one of the best selling IPAs in American history, with over a 100 year tradition, but it also provided substantial influence to both Fritz Maytag at Anchor, whose Liberty Ale was inspired by it, and Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada, who has acknowledged that Ballantine IPA was an inspiration for Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Pre-1970s Ballantine IPA is described in literature as a beer with a starting gravity of 18 degrees Plato, an alcohol content of 7.4%, 60 IBUs, aged for a year in oak vats, and dry-hopped with a unique process using Bullion (and apparently at times Cluster) hops. In other words, this was a real beefy IPA, similar in intensity to the best Burton IPAs of the 1800s and the best craft brewed IPAs today.

Ballantine Shepps TX ballantine_india_pale_ale_poster-re561ef9be5514219bb93f79c3e32c8f5_5jt_400

Ballantine IPA fell victim to the homogenization of American beer in the 1950s-1970s, a development I detailed at length in my book. The demise of many regional breweries and classic beers styles occurred as the American Lager gained a stronger and stronger stranglehold on the American beer scene. With the buyouts and closings that occurred during this time, Ballantine went from being the 3rd largest brewer in the US in the 1950s, to eventually being sold to Falstaff, and having the brewing moved from Newark, NJ to the Narragansett Brewery in Rhode Island. The Ballantine IPA recipe went through several modifications and was eventually dumbed down to the point of being a shell of its formal self.

The history of Ballantine IPA has been well documented on the internet, on sites like this, JessKidden’s great documentations of historical breweries here and here, and Bil Corcoran’s blog site My Beer Buzz. I used all of this as part of my research for the book, and since the book was published, I’ve been able to be involved in the brewing of two Ballantine IPA-inspired beers. The first was this Collaboration originally done with Dave Yarrington at Smuttynose Brewing Company and Tod Mott, then at the Portsmouth Brewery, a beer we called Cluster’s Last Stand (the name came before we decided the recipe). The grain bill was from the first Ballantine recipe in my book, and we hopped the beer with Bullion and Cluster hops, and a bit of Tomahawk hops. Dave at Smuttynose has now rebrewed and packaged Cluster’s Last Stand a couple of times, and somehow our co-founder and CEO Greg Koch was able to take part in one of those re-brews. I’m not sure how I missed out on that brew day! The second was a recipe that I asked Kris Ketcham, our Brewing Manager at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens-Liberty Station, to brew, and it used the same grain bill and 100% Bullion hops. Kris released this in February 2014 and called it Valentine IPA, an homage to Ballantine. Both beers were resiny, hoppy, extremely bitter, and delightful.

Stone-Smuttynose-Custers-Last-Stand-690x414

So I was quite excited to see that Pabst was reintroducing Ballantine IPA this September. I am seeing a lot buzz around this beer on the internet. Articles and blogs like this one are popping up all over social media sites. And a very gratifying development regarding the release of Ballantine IPA is that my IPA book had a role in it.  The Pabst Brewmaster in charge of developing this beer, Greg Deuhs, has given me a couple of shout outs in this story here and on this radio interview on WILK 103.1’s Friday Beer Buzz , and I’m beyond pleased that some of what I was able to cobble together about Ballantine IPA played any part in its resurrection.

I was lucky enough to have a a colleague “with connections” send me a prototype unlabeled can of the new Ballantine IPA, which I tried very recently with a friend. The beer is a beautiful amber color, hoppy as hell, huge powerhouse of hop aromatics, lots of citrus and herbal earthiness. This is a beer I definitely order again, just a really intense American IPA.

NewBallantine

 

The late, great Ballantine.(traditional American ale)
From: Modern Brewery Age | Date: 3/27/2000 | Author: Glaser, Greg
Modern Brewery Age

The real story of the greatest of the traditional American ales.

Mention the name Ballantine to beer lovers, especially beer lovers with more than a few flecks of gray in their beards, and more often than not they will begin to rhapsodize rapturously about this famous ale. You’ll hear stories of old bottles mysteriously and wondrously discovered and tasted; tales of long-discarded techniques employed by the original brewers; accounts of the slow, steady decline of the beer’s greatness as it passed from brewery to brewery, the result of corporate takeovers.

Beer writers often praise Ballantine. Michael Jackson, writing in the August 1980 British beer journal, “What’s Brewing,” described Ballantine IPA as “wonderfully distinctive … an outstanding American ale unique in its fidelity to the East Coast tradition of Colonial ales.” More recently, in the February-March 2000 “Celebrator Beer News,” Fred Eckhardt wrote, “Ballantine IPA would be a good choice for the greatest and most enduring American brewing triumph of the early and mid-20th century.” Pat Baker stated in an interview, “Ballantine IPA was just such a beautiful looking beer. It had a deep amber color and a sparkling head. And of course the hops were just monstrous. It was one of those beer tasting experiences that just stays with you.”

Intrigued by such writings and comments, I decided to delve deeper into Ballantine lore and search out its history. This is what I discovered:In 1830 Peter Ballantine, a Scottish brewer from Ayr, emigrated to the U.S. Several years later, in 1837, he opened a brewery in Albany, New York, and named it Peter Ballantine and Sons. The brewery moved to Newark, New Jersey, in 1840, where it remained until purchased by Falstaff in 1971. (From 1879 to 1911 Ballantine operated a second Newark brewery, and in 1943 the company purchased Newark’s Christian Feiganspan Brewery and ran it as a Ballantine plant until 1948.) At its peak in the 1950s, P. Ballantine & Sons brewed five million barrels a year.

Production of all Ballantine beers (there were several) moved in 1971 to the Narragansett Brewery in Cranston, Rhode Island. Narragansett, which opened in 1890, was purchased by Falstaff in 1965 and closed in 1983. Falstaff, bought by Pabst in 1975, moved Ballantine production to their Ft. Wayne, Indiana, brewery in 1979, where the brand remained until 1991 when the plant closed. (This was the old Berghoff Brewery, purchased by Falstaff in 1954.)

From 1991 to 1996, Pabst brewed Ballantine in Milwaukee. There is a possibility that towards the end of this time Ballantine may have also been brewed at the Heileman Brewery in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where some Pabst brands were made. During 1996 to 1999, Ballantine came out of Pabst breweries in Tumwater, Oregon, and San Antonio, Texas. Today the brand is solely brewed at Pabst’s plant in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, the original 1972 Schaeffer brewery that was later sold to Stroh in 1980 and acquired by Pabst in 1999.

Through all these moves, Ballantine ales constantly changed character. The brands most often brewed were Ballantine XXX and Ballantine IPA, the latter being the most widely loved and praised. In Newark, Ballantine IPA was a strong, 7.5% abv amber ale with great hop bitterness (60 International Bittering Units or IBUs) and a powerful hop aroma. This aroma came from hop oils distilled from Bullion hops at the brewery and added to the storage tanks. These tanks them-selves were unique, in that they were made of oak. Ballantine IPA was aged for a full year in the wood, a technique unheard of today except for the most artisanal microbrewery. The woody character found in Ballantine IPA was as important to the beer’s profile as were the hop oils. The Newark brewery also produced a special ale named Ballantine Burton. This extra strong beer, perhaps 10% abv, was aged an amazing ten years in wood and bottled sporadically as holiday gifts to brewery employees and friends. The labels created for these bottles would sta te the date the beer was brewed and bottled and the name of the recipient.

When Ballantine moved to Rhode Island, the IPA aging was first lowered to nine months, then six and finally to five. Oak barrels were replaced by wax-coated cyprus, according to Bill Anderson, Narragansett’s master brewer in the early 1970s. Hop oils continued to be used for a while, with a distillation unit on premises, but this process was later abandoned. Overall IBUs for the IPA dropped to 50, then 45. Bullion hops were used at first, but were later changed to a blend of Brewers’ Gold and American Yakima. The IPA was dry hopped in storage tanks after the hops were put through what Anderson called a hammer mill. “We ground them to a consistency that was a cross between corn flakes and sawdust,” he remembers. The strength of the beer remained constant during most of the Narragansett years, at 7.5% abv, but Anderson says this was later reduced to 6.7%.

In that same 1980 What’s Brewing article quoted previously, Jackson wrote of the Ballantine IPA: it had a “thick, rocky head, delightfully hoppy nose, powerful and lasting bitterness, extremely firm full body, superb balance and soft natural carbonation.” Alan Kornhauser, a Ballantine aficionado and brewmaster for Pabst Brewing Company, Far East Division, based in Zhaoqing, China, remembers the Rhode Island-brewed Ballantine IPA as, light and refreshing, with great hop aroma.”

Ballantine Burton was never brewed outside Newark, but XXX came out of Narragansett as a golden ale of about 23 IBUs and 5.6% abv. Another ale produced there was Ballantine Brewers’ Gold, a strong (7% abv), moderately hoppy (30-34 IBUs) golden ale. A lager was also made.

Once Ballantine production moved to Ft. Wayne, a decidedly different beer emerged. Gone were the wooden aging casks; gone were the hop oils. “It stopped tasting like Ballantine at that time,” recalls Kornhauser. “It must have been a different formula and maybe not even an ale yeast. And the hop aroma was gone.” Pat Baker remembers much the same: “The wood character disappeared and the hop character faded.”

I couldn’t find anyone to provide notes on Ballantine when it was brewed in Milwaukee, Tumwater or San Antonio, but I did speak with Dan Melideo, master brewer at Pabst’s Lehigh Valley plant, Ballantine’s present home. Melideo says that today Ballantine XXX, the only Ballantine in production, finishes with a strength of 5.45% abv (a far cry from the original) and is hopped to a bitterness of about 22 IBUs (again, much lower than in the past). And the hops have changed again. Melideo uses Cascade hops in the boil and also in storage to dry hop the beer. Aging in wood remains a thing of the past. Jim Walter, VP of Business Administration for Pabst, explains that Ballantine XXX is marketed primarily in the northeast corridor with some sales in the Mid West and West Coast. He says that in the future Pabst may also see a market develop for Ballantine IPA.

Before joining Pabst in China, Alan Kornhauser was a brewer at Portland Brewing in Portland, Oregon. While there he wanted to recreate the Ballantine he knew and loved from years ago, and to introduce this re-creation to West Coast beer lovers, unfamiliar with the old ale. He says he brewed the best version of Ballantine XXX he could in 1996. The beer, originally named Summer Ale, is now called Portland Pale Ale in some parts of the country, and Kornhauser’s Oast Ale in the Pacific Northwest, where it is available from April through August. Kornhauser wanted to use hop oils just as was originally done in Newark and Rhode Island, and he built a still to extract oils from Oregon-grown Brewers’ Gold hops. Not completely satisfied with the results, he sent a batch of hops to England where he knew of an established hop distillery. The hop oil returned to Oregon was blended with the oil he extracted and used in his ale. The result is a 4.7% abv ale with about 28 IBUs and a highly aromatic fragrance from the hop oi ls. In comparing it to his benchmark, Ballantine XXX, Kornhauser says that for flavor it rated eight on scale often, but for hops it was a perfect ten. “The burp after a few sips was all hop oil,” recalls the proud brewer. The Narragansett-brewed Ballantine IPA was the model Kornhauser used when he developed Woodstock IPA for Portland Brewing, a beer in year-round production. Woodstock is a 6.3% abv ale with 45 IBUs (no hop oil, but plenty of dry hops) and a noticeable woody flavor from Kornhauser’s “secret oak aging process.”

“These were two of my favorite beers in the world, Ballantine Ale and IPA, and I was very fortunate that Portland Brewing allowed me to try to recreate them as best I could,” says Kornhauser.

It’s safe to say that bottles of the old, original Ballantine IPA, the Newark and even the Rhode Island versions, are not to be found today. If any exist, the beer would have aged into something completely different, as have old bottles of Ballantine Burton. With regrets, none of us can taste this highly lauded ale. With Pabst’s Ballantine XXX being brewed so differently from the original, it’s hardly fair to compare it with the older version. The most that diehard beer lovers can do is read the reviews of the past, talk with any gray-beards they can find who tasted the original Ballantine ales and search out microbreweries such as Portland Brewing Company who brew hoppy ales. Those are our best chances of getting even the slightest handle on the late, great ale they called Ballantine.

Gregg Glaser is a beer writer and educator who makes his home in Wilton, CT. His writings are a regular feature in Modern Brewery Age.

My Favorite Beer Cities

Another one I never got around to posting because sometimes life gets in the way:

Stephen Beaumont wrote a post a while back on his World of Beer site that “there is no such thing as a “best beer city””, his point being that the enjoyment of beer relies as much upon atmosphere, situation, and history as much as the overall beer and brewery selection in any given city. I kind of agree with him, despite the fact that I called Portland, Oregon America’s best beer city in a previous post. But this is highly subjective, admittedly, and so I thought maybe I’d just list my favorite beer cities, and why I enjoy them as much as I do, without trying to decide which is best, because I like them all for different reasons.

I did not list any cities I haven’t been to, so if a great beer city is not on the list, that would probably be why. So here they are, in no particular order, and special thanks to Stone’s Brewery Reps in each of these towns, because they are the ones that always show me what’s new:

Portland, Oregon: Nowhere I’ve been is craft beer as pervasive as I’ve seen in Portland, OR. I go to Portland about once a year, and every time I go, I get to visit many new craft beer bars or breweries. There is always something new and incredible. And craft beer is literally everywhere, it’s harder to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t serve craft beer than it is to find one that does. Portland has a great craft brewing tradition, one of the pioneering towns of the modern day craft beer movement, so it is full of 30 year “tradition” and also some groundbreaking innovation. The Craft Brewers Conference will be in Portland in 2015, and I think we’re cooking up some big activities while we are there. Cannot wait for this.

San Diego, CA: Okay, I’m a homie now, after 8+ years of being here. There are currently over 80 craft breweries in San Diego County, and the beer scene is amazingly innovative and vibrant. There’s a beer style for everyone here. If you want a lager, an English Ale, a sour beer, or a west coast IPA, you can find excellent examples of all of these being brewed within miles of each other. I’m proud to be part of the beer community here, I just wish I lived a little closer to San Diego itself and all the great beer bars there, like Hamilton’s, Blind Lady, Small Bar and Toronado just east of downtown, and The Neighborhood and The Local in downtown. I just read that the ~20 mile stretch along Highway 78 from Escondido to Oceanside is home to something like 30 breweries! My favorite place to get a beer and a meal in the San Diego area is URGE Gastropub in Rancho Bernardo, in between San Diego and Escondido.

Cleveland, OH: I’ve traveled for Stone a few times to Cleveland OH, and always have a great time. There is a hard-core craft scene here, while it might not be as big as the scene is in some other cities, it is passionate, down to earth, and intense. There are some great breweries in Cleveland, including Fat Heads, Market Garden, and Great Lakes, and the city’s residents have really embraced Stone, which always makes a visit fun. I love the restaurants in Cleveland also, not only are there several Michael Symon restaurants, there are places like Melt and Winking Lizard that serve lots and lots of craft beer, and have delicious comfort food with generous portion sizes. Lilly’s handmade chocolates is not only a craft beer bottle shop, but they make incredible chocolates, many of them made with beer. The home brewing scene is big also. Plus it’s also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it scores double for me.

San Francisco Bay Area: Will always have a spot in my heart. I grew up in the Bay Area, and got my first brewing job here. The brewing scene is widespread here, so like most people, I tend to lump many Northern California breweries together as part of the SF Beer scene. I love the breweries here, the ones I knew in the 80’s when I first started brewing, like Anchor, Triple Rock, Sierra Nevada and Drakes, and the great ones that have come since I left, like 21st Amendment, Faction, Russian River, Bear Republic, and Lagunitas. The Bay Area is home to The Brewing Network, and a bunch of great craft beer bars, and is also home to some of my closest friends in the business. My only gripe about the area is that there are still some craft beer deserts-like the San Jose area and the Diablo Valley, though they are getting better. The East Bay is home to me, but I just wish craft beer would take off in my hometown, Walnut Creek. Ol is a good start, but come on! At least Concord “gets it”, kind of. But like people say when I visit the East Bay and ask where I should go:   “you need to drive through the Caldecott tunnel or take BART to get to a great beer place”.

Denver: I lived in Colorado for 3 years, and absolutely loved it. Denver is a cool town, the LoDo area was just taking off when we lived there. The brewing scene in Colorado is legendary, with breweries like Wynkoop and Breckenridge, and there are exciting new brewers popping up all the time. It’s a fun town to visit, which I get to do just about every year when I go out for the Great American Beer Festival. Falling Rock is the legendary beer bar, and is so packed post GABF sessions that I usually end up going somewhere else. But I love to go there in quieter times. My favorite place in Denver: Euclid Hall, a craft beer centric German-inspired gastropub. But downtown is just loaded with great brewers and great beer bars, all pretty much walking distance from each other. When I lived in Colorado, I was in Ft. Collins, and that town is simply amazing, with brewers like Odell and New Belgium, and several others that have opened since I left.

Seattle: Seattle’s scene is legendary as well, and every time I go there-which is on a pretty regular basis because of its proximity to Yakima (where almost all our hops are grown)- there always seems to be a new brewery that is creating a lot of buzz. I like the old standbys, like Pike and Elysian, and love Brouwer’s Cafe, which always has amazing Belgian beer selections. I’m looking forward to trying Toronado next time I’m there, which will be soon.

Philadelphia: I have to admit, I have a hard time figuring out Philly’s beer scene. Not that it isn’t great, but it is a bit unusual in that it seems to be dominated by beer bars and restaurants as opposed to breweries. There are some great breweries in the area, like Victory, Yards and the Iron Hill pub chain that wins so many awards at the GABF every year, but when I go to Philadelphia, I usually end up in a Belgian beer bar-there are several awesome ones in the town. Monk’s is the “must-visit” place in Philadelphia. But Eulogy Belgian Tavern is also great, and I’ve also enjoyed the times I’ve visited the Belgian Cafe, Tria Cafe, and Jose Pistolas.

Asheville: I went to Asheville twice in 2013, and there aren’t words to describe how cool the brewing scene is there. For a town of 80,000+ people, it certainly has a lot of really good breweries and beer bars, and I can see going there a LOT in my future. Wicked Weed Brewing, The Thirsty Monk, and Jack of The Wood are all great places to hang out. I have told my wife more than once that I want to retire there. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly and kind, and the beer is great. Can’t really beat that, can you?

Boston: I lived in the Boston area for 6 years while working for Anheuser-Busch, and the beer scene at the time was pretty much dominated by Sam Adams and Harpoon. I became friends with many of New England’s craft brewers while I lived there and active in the New England District of the Master Brewers Association. I think New England’s craft beer presence was clouded a bit in the early days by the rampant use of Ringwood yeast, but there are many amazing beers there now. I love New England and would move back in a heartbeat if Stone were to move their headquarters there (yeah, right. Probably not going to happen). If you include Maine and Vermont as part of the overall scene, you get some world-class craft brewers like The Alchemist and Allagash added to the mix.  If I had to name a “best beer state”, Vermont might be at the top of my list.

Burlington VT: Simply one of my favorite towns. It’s beautiful, and has a great vibe, and good beer. Not only are there several world-class breweries within the town limits, it’s also just a short distance away from brewers likeThe Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Otter Creek, and so many other great Vermont Breweries. I wouldn’t mind retiring here either, if I can still deal with the cold and snow by the time I get to be retirement age.

St. Louis: I lived 5 years in St. Louis, and of course, Budweiser was king there when I lived there. But I went back last year for the first time in about 7 years, and was excited to find a vibrant craft scene, that includes the great Schlafly beer, and also newer brewers like 4 Hands and Urban Chestnut.  The town will always be beer centric, and it’s great to see people embrace craft beer since the sale of Anheuser-Busch to Inbev.

Austin: Like most people, I tend to think of music first when I think of Austin, but the beer scene is really great. I wrote a lot about the town in a previous post, but there are great craft beer bars and restaurants all over town. And yes, 6th Street, where a lot of the music is, is a bit of a craft beer desert, but you can find good beer if you look hard enough, and on the perimeter of 6th street are some great craft beer places, like Easy Tiger and Star Bar

Temecula:  This is my hometown, and I have to admit, I didn’t like it much when I first moved here over 8 years ago. It was chain restaurant hell, but in the past several years it has became home to some great gastropubs, like The Public House and Sorrel, and there are a bunch of breweries that have opened on the west side of town. Black Market opened a few years ago, was really the first brewery here after Vinnie Cilurzo’s Blind Pig Brewery closed, and they brewed a great Hefeweizen and GABF winning Rye IPA when they first opened up. Since Black Market, several breweries have also opened, owned by really super people who are brewing great beer. The list of brewers in Temecula now includes Black Market, Iron Fire, Refuge, Aftershock, Wiens and Garage Brewing. Many of these breweries sell much of their beer out of their tasting rooms, and are within either walking distance from each other or just a short drive, so a safe brewery crawl is always fun and safe to do on a weekend. Riverside County and Los Angeles are no slouches either when it comes to craft brewing-there are some great breweries that have opened up across the region, and some of my favorite beer bars, like 38 Degrees, Blue Palms, Najas, Haven, Lucky Baldwin’s, Congergation Ale House, and Mohawk Bend are located near LA.

London: I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to travel to London about 6 times in the last 5 years. I love the city, and I love the pub scene in England. Some of my favorite stops in London: The Fuller’s Brewery is still amazing after all these years, and some of the newer craft breweries, like The Kernel and Beavertown are brewing really exciting beers. Meantime in Greenwich does a great job brewing both German style beers and historically influenced English Ales. There are some really great craft beer pubs around London too, including The Rake in the Borough market area, The Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell, and the Euston Tap, just outside the Euston train station.

Montreal: Fortunately, I got to Montreal twice when I lived in new Hampshire. It’s a great beer town full of Belgian influenced brewers. I have very fond memories of doing an all day walking brewery/pub crawl with several friends from the Brew For or Die homebrew club. And our Unibroue stop was epic. I’ll never forget going into an Irish pub on St. Catherine Street and hearing an Irish band play Metallica.

Brussels: I’ve only been to Brussels once, and for the best reason: to visit Cantillon. Steve Wagner and I stopped there for a night during one of our trips to London. Jean Van Roy was very generous with his time and his sampling when we told him where we were from. And in the town center, there are the world famous beer bars like Delirium Tremens. The Belga Queen was one of the best dinner experiences I have ever had. Boon Gueze on cask–all night.

Grand Rapids, MI: Made my first visit to Grand Rapids for the American Homebrewers Conference in June, and it’s really a very cool beer town. Founders is right there-their beers are fantastic, and their restaurant serves great sandwiches. Walking distance from Founders is Hop Cat and several other great beer spots. And Brewery Vivant was a fun last minute stop-they are killing it. Lots of really great places. And nearby, Kalamazoo (home to Bell’s) and Ann Arbor-Home to Ashley’s and close to Jolly Pumpkin, are no slouches either!

Now that Stone is working on opening up breweries in Berlin and in a location TBD on the East Coast, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of the world’s great beer towns.

 

On my quality soapbox (again)

I haven’t posted here in what seems like forever. Those who know me know that I have a lot going on right now, both personally, and professionally, and the motivation to sit in front of the keyboard and type out my thoughts just hasn’t been there lately.

This is a post I wrote soon after the Craft Brewers Conference in April, and just never got around to posting, so here it is..

From April 2014:

During the keynote session of the Craft Brewers Conference, Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association, gave his annual state of the industry talk. In that discussion, he told a story about going to a beer festival and trying many really bad beers from newer brewers. These brewers thought their beer was fantastic, and were buoyed by the positive response they had received from their customers, so they had no idea their beer, from a technical standpoint, was flawed. This is cause for concern. Paul’s  takeaway message: “QUALITY QUALITY QUALITY and “don’t f*@k it up” for the rest of us.” A lot of craft brewing people have spent years building this industry, and one serious quality issue could really ruin the great momentum that has been built.

In the biggest honor of my career, right after Paul’s opening address, I was awarded the Brewers Association Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing, and as I walked up on the stage to say a few words, I decided then and there that I would follow up Paul’s comments with a few of my own, which ended up being something about how the growth of this industry is great, but if you are starting a brewery, please, please, please hire a brewer who knows what the hell they are doing.

A few hours later, Dr. Michael Lewis from UC Davis gave a seminar where he stressed the importance of having technically trained brewers on your staff. And he took it a step further, saying that it is also important that they have an independent certification of their mastery of the craft.

Recently, my friend Jeremy Danner from Boulevard Brewing Company posted on Facebook the following: “Fellow brewer types, as you plan your trips to GABF this fall, if you can afford a week in CO, you can afford a microscope. Buy one.” I loved this post…

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you already know that beer quality is very important to me. It is important that, as brewers, we all strive to make the highest quality, most consistent beer that we can. As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all boats. On the other hand, a craft brewer making lousy beer can drive fledgling craft beer drinkers permanently to other beverages, like wine or spirits. And that’s bad news for all of us.

Unfortunately, there are some brewers starting up who don’t understand the importance of this, and worse yet, how to achieve it.

I teach the Wort Production and Recipe Formulation for the UC San Diego Extension Brewing Certification Program, and one thing I constantly preach to my classes is that if you are starting a brewery, at a minimum you need to invest in a microscope, a pH meter, and hydrometers. Basic stuff, right? But I’ve walked into so many new breweries that have none of this, or perhaps just hydrometers to check gravity, and it just makes me shake me head. And not enough brewers out there have had any formal sensory training, and know how to identify off-flavors in their beers, and subsequently, how those off flavors are formed, and how to fix them or prevent them.

Again, beer quality, as defined by most brewers, has a very clear meaning: The ability to brew beer with no off flavors, the ability to brew the same beer consistently from batch to batch, to recognize and fix quality issues before the beer gets packaged, having the recognition of when its best to simply dump a beer that has gone south, and the ability to evaluate beer ingredients to brew the best beer possible.

Notice I did not mention formulation. To me, that’s where the consumer comes in. Once all the brewers master the art of quality, their formulations can come under fair scrutiny by beer drinkers, who then use their purchasing power to determine which beers thrive and which beers don’t.

I’ve seen many people take the opinion that having poor quality beer out there won’t affect the overall growth of craft beer. In other words, beer customers won’t turn away from craft after having a poorly brewed beer. In some respects that is true-one bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch. But here is a reason why brewing quality matters: The craft industry is now a major factor in overall beer consumption. Big brewers are starting to really focus on craft beer, and they have the marketing power to exploit poor quality beer and generalize that across the entire craft beer scene. This is not a joke or an idle threat, look what Anheuser-Busch did to craft beer in the 1990s, when they drove the expose on Dateline with Sam Adams and the concept of “who really brews your beer”. The fallout on craft beer started immediately afterwards, and it took years for the craft beer business to recover, and most contract brewers disappeared. These big brewers understand quality, and have a lot of power, and if they ever figure out how to effectively combine these two elements to convey their message it could have a very bad effect on the rest of the industry. Fortunately, for us, their Executives and Marketing folks still don’t “get” what craft beer is all about, so they haven’t been able to effectively talk about this with any credibility.

As MIchael Lewis says, it’s not good at all for craft brewers to get smug with our success, spend too much time patting ourselves on the back, and rest on laurels, since a potential quality disaster is just around the corner.