Like W.T. Marchant and John Bickerdyke writing in Britain nearly a century before, Gregg Smith takes up the theme of mixed drinks made with beer in his Beer in America: The Early Years (1998). And like those nineteenth-century writers before him, Smith’s rumination on what American tavern denizens were drinking in times prior to the rise of industrialism is revealing, both in terms of the ingredients and attitudes toward warm drinks. Just as in the old country, beer was thought to be better than drinking water, but warm beer was thought to be best, presumably because warm liquids were easier to digest and because beer was considered healthy. And it had the physician’s imprimatur. Indeed, many a colonial drinker influenced by the recommendations of physicians and prevailing lore “were as likely to order a warmed, mixed beer as a tall, cold one” (Smith, 211).
Victors in the world of competitive barbecue are judged by just a single bite. Thus, when you’re producing some ribs or brisket for the blind tasting, competitors look to pack each and every possible bite with an overwhelming amount of sugary, salty, smoky, fatty flavor. The funny thing is, were you to actually try to eat an entire meal of these “competition” ribs or brisket, you couldn’t. They would be far too sickly sweet, way too nauseatingly rich.
When I look back at how I used to judge beer, I’m embarrassed to say I once acted like those blind-folded barbecue judges.
In my twenties, I strictly sought out the most ingredient-laden beers around. IPAs hopped and dry-hopped and perhaps even Randall-ized with numerous avant-garde varietals. Imperial stouts packed with more sugary adjuncts than an ice cream sundae bar. Sours jammed with a fruit salad of funk. Often these were enjoyed in few-ounce pours, sometimes as part of a tasting flight. Much better than having a full pint of something “drinkable,” something traditional, something not much different than the macro-lagers the craft beer industry was running from in the first place.
You might have ended up here thinking this post was going to be about barley wines, Belgian quads, barrel-aged imperial stouts, or winter warmers. It’s not, much as I enjoy those typically malty styles. My apologies. Blame it on a piece I wrote a few years back called “When Once They Drank Beer Warm.” My enthusiasm for introducing readers to a nearly forgotten past did not mesh well with the timing of the piece. (Read: not an inordinate number of page views.) You see, I posted this article about warm beer at the height of summer. Who in this day and age wants to contemplate warm beer when the temperatures say beach and biking? But with a good two months’ worth of cold weather on the horizon, now might not be a bad time to revisit the past and cook up a tankard or two of warmed and spiced ale to parry the cold. So buckle up for a journey into the brave old world of warm beer concoctions, along with several recipes sure to expand what you thought possible of those aforementioned winter warmers.
Okay…that’s how you say it. No, as is the case with a lot of Germanic names, it refuses to roll off most American tongues. It took my wife almost six months, back when we ran our wine shop, to learn to even remember the word “Gewürztraminer”, and then maybe another eight months to learn to say it. She did, finally, but I think she may actually have sprained her tongue twice. (FYI: “Guh-VERTS-truh-meener”)
“If you had to buy oxygen to stay alive and there was a shortage, you’d probably buy a couple extra bottles when you could, wouldn’t you?”
That’s partially how fourth-generation Washington hop grower Eric Desmarais excuses the thousands of craft brewers, who, panicking after a severe U.S. hop shortage that lasted from 2013-15, ordered well over a million excess pounds of the crop they’ve since discovered they don’t need and can’t necessarily pay for. The massive imbalance between what growers harvested in the fall of 2017 and what brewers can use has already caused one hop broker to file for Chapter 11 protection and threatens to upend brewers who got caught off guard by the glut they helped create.
This is the story of gruit, typically thought of as a type of beer brewed in the medieval Low Countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, and western Germany, and the genesis of excise taxation. The intertwined history of both the beer and tax law muddied the waters and by the 17th century the knowledge of gruit as a beer had passed from living memory. This paper is an attempt to put together the many pieces, spanning multiple countries, languages and centuries, to create a clearer picture of gruit as a beverage than what is currently found in the English language. The word gruit seems to have many meanings within the context of brewing. With gruit a grain product deemed necessary for brewing beer was meant, but also a certain tax paid at each time of brewing, as well as specific herbs added to the ale, and even the beer itself. As this study intends to look deeper into historic gruit, the modern definition of gruit as generic herbal ale in contrast to hopped beer is not taken into consideration. Gruit as a product changed throughout its history. From a beer additive revered for its fermenting powers, it morphed into a beer with a reputation for headache causing herbals. From piecing together the many different puzzle pieces an interesting picture emerges: one of gruit not as just a handful of brewing herbs, but as a powerful and deemed necessary wort fortifier…
Today’s brewers can add any number of flavors to their beers. Some are newfangled, such as chili pepper or pumpkin; others are deeply traditional. Smoke is one of the latter, with a long and widespread pedigree. All across Europe, a hint of barbecue was once pervasive—until the Industrial Revolution, the flavor was the inevitable result of the brewing process. Malt is one of beer’s primary ingredients, and a change in how it’s made brought beer out of its smoky past.
Grains, unlike wine grapes and cider apples, don’t contain sugars. They have starches, which can’t be fermented until they are accessed and converted into sugars. Malting is the process of accessing those starches by steeping the grains in water.
Heinen’s and Market Garden Brewery are teaming up for a “Bitter End” celebration. It’s really a fest featuring 20 hop-forward, bitter beers. The grocery chain and Market Garden Brewery collaborated on Wait til Next Saison. The ale is 6.4 percent alcohol and 40 IBUs.
So here we are again. One more turn around this mortal coil, drinking to forget the follies of an old year and toasting the auspiciousness of the new. For me 2017 has been extremely enjoyable, uncanny parallels between the 1930s and the present notwithstanding. I hope it has been the same for you.