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AUG/SEP 2006 | COLUMNS | ECKHARDT

Eighty Years Of Craft Brewing
By Fred Eckhardt

One of my favorite books is the American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades, published in 1908. It is all about 19th century brewing. Another is the much larger but not quite as useful One Hundred Years of Brewing, published in 1903, featuring stories about most of that century’s brewers. Between them, these two texts detail a wonderful story about the success of beer in that century. They cover, in some detail, the SECOND great brewing revolution: the conquest of pale lager. The FIRST great brewing revolution, of course, was in the 15th century: the conquest of hops.

A careful examination shows what wonders the 19th century brought to our taps. During that fantastic century we saw the ascendance of many fine beers besides Pilsen Lager. There was porter, stout, pale ale and Belgian ale in all their splendor, and the other magnificent accomplishment of that century: India pale ale. Yes, I know most of those beers were invented in the 18th century, but let us not forget that they were developed in the 19th.

Sometime in the latter half of that century, folks lost their perspective and foolishly concentrated mostly on one class of beer, lagers (cold, aged beer from the German word lagern, to store), and one type, the beautiful Pilsen style of lager beer. New malting methods from the early part of that century allowed very pale malts to come forth, which in turn permitted the production of exceedingly pale beer.

It wasn’t long before folks forgot that there had ever been taste in any beer type.

Moreover, the Pilsen people were given glassware in which to view the beautiful spectacle that is this particular beer. The long, cold lager ferment permitted a more mellow palate profile with fewer hops and smoother taste esters. Wonderful. Everyone, it seemed, had tired of the stronger, crankier, hoppier, darker ales, and these new lagers were just the cat’s meow for the new beer drinkers. And that too was great; we still had the ales out there, so nothing had been lost. Folks just took a different perspective.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the major beer-producing countries became embroiled in the worst war the world had ever seen: World War I. The prohibitionist movement was making its way across this country state by state. The United States was about to join the evil European war, and beer became an object of assault as the prohibitionists pressed to eliminate all alcohol consumption.

The brewers, most of whom brewed the Germanic “lager” beer, were becoming hard-pressed to defend their product from the prohibitionists. Here is an excerpt from an article from my local paper, The Oregonian, dated Monday, November 2, 1914, the day before Oregon voters elected to move our state into full prohibition by 1916, well ahead of the national Prohibition of 1919.

PROHIBITION TALK IS SET
Edward Adams Cantrell, well-known … lecturer [and preacher], will speak tonight … discussing the … prohibition amendment [to be voted on tomorrow]. There will be no admission charge [and all women] in the audience will be presented with a book by Mr. Cantrell at the close of the lecture.And just below that piece was this advertisement.

BEER IS NOT ALCOHOL
Beer is the combined extract of malt and hops. Malt builds up tissue. Hops is an invigorating tonic. Beer contains natural carbonic acid gas, which gives it sparkling effervescence. Beer contains 3 to 4 percent of alcohol developed by natural fermentation, just enough to preserve it.

Phones: Main 72, A 1172
Henry Weinhard Brewery
Portland, Oregon

That was early in the 20th century — a century that was to become a disaster for the great beer styles of the world. The large brewers worldwide got bigger and bigger, and they took to brewing the fine Pilsen-style lagers with a vengeance. This worked nicely for some time, but then they took matters into their own evil hands. If pale beer was so good, then exceedingly pale beer must be gooder. If a reduction in hop usage was nice, perhaps reduction of hops to nearly none at all would be a grand way to go. If the heavy, tasty, flavorful porters, stouts and ales were too much, then we could just eliminate flavor. Beer is for “drunking,” and who needs taste?

That, of course led to stronger beers, which came to be called malt liquors. (After all, how could such travesties ever be called “beer”? At least they got that part of it right). Hey, wait! If beer doesn’t need taste, perhaps the malt liquor department can be watered down a bit, and we won’t have so many calories for fat people to worry about. We’ll call it “light” beer!

That pretty much took care of the first 80 years of the 20th century. True, there were a couple wars along the way, eliminating much of the competition among beer styles. Managing just a single type of beer proved helpful, too. It wasn’t long before folks forgot that there had ever been taste in any beer type. And beer wasn’t the only casualty: coffee, bread, cheese and many other diet staples were dumbed down, too.

OK! There was no craft brewing 80 years ago, or at least they didn’t call it that. I’ve spent much of the last several weeks turning 80 years old, so that’s where the “80” is coming from — it’s mine. But there HAS actually been over 40 years of craft brewing. Modern craft brewing actually began when young Fritz Maytag took over the reins of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company in 1965. Anchor is America’s first and oldest craft brewer.

Also in 1965, a very small brewery began operating in Scotland. Peter Maxwell Stuart, 20th Laird of Traquair, restored his house brewery, after decades of disuse, as a small manor brewery. Traquair House in Innerleithen offered a very small quantity (268 U.S. gallons per month) of handmade traditional beer to the local populace.

An American, Jack McAuliffe, at that time a U.S. Navy man stationed nearby, was reputed to be so impressed that, when he left the Navy a few years later, he built, by hand, his own small "microbrewery" in Sonoma, Calif. His New Albion brewery started operations in August of 1976, releasing his first beer, British-style New Albion Ale. McAuliffe aimed his production at 6 U.S. barrels (186 gallons) per month. Although his small brewery achieved modest success, production proved inadequate and, in 1983, the tiny brewery finally closed. But McAuliffe's real contribution was to inspire others to believe that small breweries could be a success (even if his wasn't). His effort encouraged many folks, and he is certainly the father of the modern microbrewery movement, which in turn (as breweries grew larger) became the craft-brewing movement.

This modest start got a lot of attention among homebrewers, and it wasn’t long before there were a serious number of tiny “microbrewer” start-ups out there. And that’s the real story of 20th century brewing: a tiny beginning for a monumental beer revolution that is changing the way the world views beer.

Fred Eckhardt took three weeks to celebrate his 80th. He has no idea whatsoever as to how this happened, but he tells us he is having far too much fun. The quotes from the 1914 Oregonian newspaper are provided courtesy of Mike and Brian McMenamin, who are busy preserving many of Oregon’s wonderful historic buildings by making beer available in them.

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