I blog primarily over at "geosciblog" (http://geosciblog.blogspot.com), I am doing this one for fun. It is inspired by 30+ years of beer can collecting and having tried more than 3,000 different American beers during that time. “. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hi Neighbor...Have a 'Gansett!

For those not familiar with the above slogan, it was for Narragansett Beer, brewed in Cranston, RI from 1888 to 1981. Yes, I am a Southerner, but I managed to visit Narragansett territory in 1977, 1978, and 1981. I got to try Narragansett Lager, Cream Ale, Porter, and Haffenreffer Malt Liquor, as well as Ballantine Ale, Ballantine IPA, Ballantine Lager, Krueger Lager, and Falstaff, all of which were brewed at this brewery during that time period.

From its founding as a lager brewery in 1888, Narragansett gradually grew until it became the largest brewery in New England in 1909. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Narragansett resumed its place as New England's largest brewery.

By the 1960s, national brewers were making inroads into traditional Narragansett markets. In 1965, Falstaff Brewing Co. purchased Narragansett. The bulk of the advertising dollars were spent unsuccessfully promoting Falstaff in an attempt to introduce it to the New England market. The lack of advertising also contributed to a continual sales slide for the Narragansett and Haffenreffer brands.

In 1972, after Falstaff purchased the Ballantine and Feigenspan brands from the closing Ballantine brewery in Newark, NJ, these brands were transferred to the Cranston brewery. The purchase of the venerable Ballantine brands was intended to help Falstaff enter the NYC market, which did not go well.

From the late 1930s, Falstaff had grown by buying local breweries on the verge of closing. By 1960, it was the third largest brewing company in the nation. But the old breweries owned by Falstaff needed refurbishing and upgrading by the 1970s. This included the Narragansett brewery. The older equipment resulted in higher production costs making competition with national brewers more difficult. An anti-trust lawsuit, by the state of Rhode Island, against Falstaff went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the court found in favor of Falstaff, but the legal costs hurt the company greatly.

The use of fuel oil to operate the brewery also contributed to its financial difficulties. Attempts were made to bring natural gas service to the brewery, but the local gas utility was unable to reach an agreement with the brewery to guarantee the quantities needed. Falstaff by this time also had a rather eccentric President, Paul Kalmanovitz, this may have affected the utility's decision not to construct the natural gas line. This finally led to the closure of this brewery in 1981.

The production of Narragansett beer and the other Falstaff and Ballantine brands was shifted to the Falstaff brewery in Fort Wayne, but customers complained of a change in taste. It may have also been produced by the Pearl brewery in San Antonio (which was part of the strange Falstaff conglomerate, which may be explained in a future post).

Eventually, the Falstaff brands wound up with Pabst, then brewing shifted to a contract basis with Miller for numerous smaller brands, including Pabst, Strohs, Schlitz, Hamms, and others. In 2003, Narragansett was dropped from the Pabst portfolio.

For more info on Narragansett, please visit this BeerHistory.com page and this Falstaff History website.

[8/3 Update: From the Falstaff History website, comes this news that the Narragansett label has been sold by Pabst to a Rhode Island entrepreneur and the brand should be returning to the state soon. Here is one story and a second story on the subject.]
[8/6 Update: Here is another good article about the history of the Narragansett Brewing Co., from the American Breweriana Journal. From an article on RealBeer.com, comes this summary of the present and future status of the Narragansett brand: "The beer is currently brewed in La Crosse, Wis. (formerly the G. Heileman brewery), and is available in 16-ounce cans. The investor group plans to move production to the High Falls Brewery (formerly the Genesee brewery) in Rochester, N.Y. Hellendrung said the company also plans to have a small brewery operation in Providence."]

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Shiner Beer

Currently owned by Carlos Alvarez of Gambrinus Brands, the Spoetzl Brewing Co. of Shiner, Texas, is the last of the original Texas breweries. The Handbook of Texas Online has a good article on the history of the brewery, some of the info below is from this article, some of it is from memory of past visits to the brewery. Shiner is located on U.S. Hwy 90 Alternate between San Antonio and Houston and the brewery is located adjacent to Boggy Creek, east of downtown Shiner (if memory serves me correctly).

It began in 1909 amid the German, Czech, and Austrian immigrants of Shiner, as the Shiner Brewing Association. Their efforts did not go well and the brewery was leased to Oswald Petzold and German-trained brewmaster Kosmas Spoetzl in 1914. The following year, Spoetzl purchased the brewery. During Prohibition, the brewery produced ice and near-beer.

When Mr. Spoetzl passed away in 1950, his daughter Cecilie (known as "Miss Celie") became the only woman to own a brewery in the nation, at the time. The Spoetzl family control ended with the sale of the brewery in 1966. After that time, the brewery changed hands several times. In 1989, Spoetzl Brewing Co. was purchased by the current owners, Carlos Alvarez and the Gambrinus Company, importers of Corona Beer. The fierce loyalty of Shiner Bock Beer fans apparently impressed Mr. Alvarez and Shiner Bock remains the flagship brand of this brewery.

Throw-away bottles were introduced in 1958 and cans in 1970. Until the late 1970s/early 1980s, the bulk of their sales were confined to the San Antonio-Austin-Houston triangle. Gradually, the sales area grew to cover most of the state of Texas. The purchase of Spoetzl by Gambrinus allowed the influx of capital for the expansion of brewing capacity and the utilization of the Gambrinus distributors in 20 states.

Prior to the advent of the microbreweries, local and regional beers, such as Pearl, Lone Star, and Shiner provided the only respites from the national brands in Texas. With the closure of the Lone Star brewery in 1998 and the closure of the Pearl brewery in 2001, Spoetzl became the last of the original Texas breweries.

Spoetzl's current offerings include Shiner Bock, Shiner Light, Shiner Summer Stock (kolsch), Shiner Blonde, Shiner Hefeweizen, and Shiner Winter Ale.

Some additional info on the brewing history of Shiner, Texas is available at TexasBreweries.com

What was Billy Beer?

I am sure most of you have at one time or another seen a picture of a Billy Beer can or have seen want ads wanting to sell them for what seemed like ridiculous prices. Well, you are right about the ridiculous prices.

President Carter's brother Billy was known to enjoy Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Someone came up with the marketing idea to have the first brother honored with his own beer. The first brewery to brew Billy Beer was the Falls City Brewing Co. of Louisville, Kentucky. Billy made his choice of recipes and as expected, he chose one similar to PBR.

The beer sold well when it first hit the market, carried largely by the publicity. Three other breweries, West End Brewing of Utica, NY (now Matts/Saranac); Cold Spring Brewing Co., of Cold Spring, MN; and Pearl Brewing Co., of San Antonio, TX produced Billy Beer in cans. Between the four breweries, including all minor can variations, there are about 7 or 8 varieties of Billy Beer cans.

The mistaken idea for the cans actually having any value came from a news report that followed the closure of Falls City Brewing Co. in 1978. When Falls City Brewing Co. closed, G. Heileman Brewing Co. of LaCrosse, WI bought the Falls City and Drummond Brothers beer labels (recipes) and unused cans from the Louisville brewery, but did not buy the unused Billy Beer cans. The unused Billy cans were recycled, but by then, thousands of cases had been sold and collectors had squirreled away thousands more than collectors would ever want, including full cans. But someone reasoned that because so many had been recycled, that increased their value.

It took a few years for the craze to go away and you still see inquiries and occasional six packs for sale. If you ever want one for a conservation piece, don't pay more than $1 or $2 for one, even if full. Actually, other Billy items, e.g., belt buckles, t-shirts, signs, etc. are more somewhat more rare than the cans. Returnable bottle labels were printed for Billy Beer, but I don't know if the bottles were ever filled at the Falls City brewery.

FYI, full cans are only of extra value to full can collectors. Canned beers do not age well and generally become stale within a few months. Bottled, higher-gravity ales and spiced ales may age for a few months to years (decades in a few rare cases), depending on a number of different factors, so if a Billy can is full, it has no extra value.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Beer Links at the Right Margin & Miscellany

Most of these are breweries that I have some familiarity with or perhaps I have heard that their products are of good quality.

Mixed among them are also a few websites of collecting organizations and beer enthusiasts.

Above all else, please enjoy in moderation.

Most of the beers discussed on this blog are meant to be savored during quiet times, during conversation with friends, but are not really meant to be "slammed" by the six-pack during football games.

For these beers and ales, allowing them to warm to about 55 degrees F helps bring out the flavors. Strong, bitter stouts should be kept a little cooler, as sometimes warming makes them too bitter. A characteristic of stouts brewed in Athens, Georgia is that they are expresso stouts (brewed with coffee) and it gets really intense when warmed. Blind Man Expresso Stout (now defunct) was the first of these.

If you are not used to strong hop contents, perhaps avoid India Pale Ales and American Pale Ales. But if you are a "hophead" you would probably enjoy Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Around here, on tap, Terrapin Rye Pale Ale and especially Terrapin Big Hoppy Monster are very hoppy and distinctive. Terrapin eventually hopes to build a brewery in Athens, Ga., but for now, their brands are contract-brewed in Frederick, Maryland.

Barleywine - The King of Ales

Barleywines, they're big, robust, and malty. They are meant to be savored sip by sip, after the kids are asleep. Or during some other quiet, contemplative moment.

This bottle is a Scottish barleywine called "Traquair House Ale" and this particular bottle has been quietly aging in my basement for 8 to 10 years (the bottle doesn't have a date, but I started saving heavier ales for aging back about 1993 or so). After all this time, it is still crystal clear, a deep ruby amber in color. The aroma is sweet and pungent, similar to other aged ales. If it had tasted as it smelled, it might have been unpleasant, but fortunately, the flavor is smooth and mellow, quite enjoyable.

The alcohol content is not listed on this bottle, but it is probably about 11 to 12%. I actually purchased this bottle in Georgia, before this strength ale was legal. In the past, once in a while, particular ales with higher than legal alcohol contents would "sneak" into the state, because there was no listed content to give it away. It was also on sale in South Carolina for a year or two later, where the legal alcohol content was also 6%. I wish I had saved more bottles of this. It is now, legally on sale in a nearby liquor store, but it would take years of aging to reach this point again.

The idea behind aging, as told to me by a wine expert, is that you give up freshness in exchange for more complex flavors and aromas. Aging can also take the sharp edge off of some ales. Extreme hop contents can produce a "bite" when fresh and the high malt content of barleywines can make them bitter when young.

It doesn't always work. I opened a bottle of 1992 Thomas Hardy Ale a few nights ago and was disappointed by the flavor. The alcohol punch was still there, but the flavor was oddly tart and unpleasant to me. The Traquair House Ale was stored under the same basement "brauskeller" conditions. Last weekend or so, I tried a 2002 bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, but it had lost too much of its hoppy character was was also a disappointment.

Barleywines generally range in alcohol content from about 7% to 15%. The British/Scottish barleywines are generally maltier and have a lower hop content than American barleywines.

Among my favorite American barleywines are Anchor Old Foghorn, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Rogue Old Crustacean, and Avery Hog Heaven.

The now-defunct Dogwood Brewing Company from Atlanta had a good, smooth barleywine ("Excellent Adventure" was the name) "waiting in the wings" when the brewery closed. As far as I know, the labels were never delivered and the barleywine never made it to market (sob, sniff!). I did get to try a "short-fill" bottle. As it was already smooth, there were not the rough edges to be removed by aging. I just wonder what happened to those bottles.

It has been several years, but I also seem to remember liking Dogfish Head Immort Ale, from New Jersey. Another tried years ago was Old Dominion Millenium. The remainder of those listed above are from western states.

When putting aside ales for aging, they need to be stored in a cool, dark place, safe from temperature fluctuations. Aging will take place in a refrigerator, at a slower rate.

Each person has their own likes and dislikes, but personally, I didn't like Flying Dog Horn Dog, but I understand they had a 10th (or maybe 15th) anniversary limited-edition Wild Dog barleywine that was better (only on draft), but I missed it. Drat. Others that I didn't care for were Abita Andygator and a few years ago I had another brand (John Barleycorn, I think) that was flavored with a different spice each year. That particular year, it was cardimom (sp.?), which was kind of a strange flavor.

The Traquair House Ale has partially erased my memory of other barleywines tried before. I may add more info as memories are refreshed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Some of the Beers That I Miss...

...Either because they are no longer brewed, or I haven't been in their sales area for years.

In no particular order:

National Bohemian when it was brewed in Baltimore. It was my favorite cheap beer. After that brewery closed, I had a can from Lehigh Valley, PA, but it just wasn't the same. If it is still brewed, it would be by Miller.

Stoney's, from Jones Brewing Co., Smithton, PA (now closed). In 16 oz. bottles, it was another good cheap beer. It was owned by the family of actress Shirley Jones.

Straub, from a small family-owned brewery (since 1872) in St. Marys, PA. It is still going strong, but the sales area is pretty much western PA and eastern OH. As I haven't been to NW Pennsylvania since 1982, I haven't enjoyed Straub since then either. They used to have a self-service tap in the hospitality room. After the tour, you could fill a glass yourself and the only requirement was that you wash the glass after you finished. One time, I stayed too long and had a few too many glasses of fresh Straub beer. I had to hang out in the parking lot and around town for a couple of hours until I was road-worthy again.

Prior Double Dark, from Christian Schmidt Brewing Co., in Philadelphia. It was an unusual dark beer, difficult to describe, but it had a cult following. The last time I bought some, in 1982, it cost $16 per case. When I was in Philadelphia during 1983, we stopped at at least a half dozen places looking for it, but no one carried it. The brewery closed within a year or so after that. Someone claimed that Saranac Black Forest was supposed to be a reincarnation of Prior Double Dark, but I don't think so. I would recognize it if I had it again.

Christian Moerlein, still brewed in Cincinnati, not sold in the Atlanta area, haven't been to Nashville in a few years. Christian Moerlein, when it debuted in 1981 (or 1982) was the first new, regionally-marketed American beer that was brewed to meet the German Reinheitsgebot rules, allowing only water, barley, hops, and yeast. It is brewed by the remnants of the Hudepohl Brewing Co.. I miss some of the other Hudepohl brands, Hudepohl Gold, Ludwig Hudeopohl Bock and Octoberfest. And my wife misses Schoenling Little Kings. Schoenling, another old Cincinnati brewery merged with Hudepohl a few years back.

Pearl, from San Antonio. As mentioned in a previous post, when I had keg parties in El Paso, they were Pearl keg parties. It is now brewed by Miller in Forth Worth. I haven't tried it from that brewery. It might be OK, but the history is now gone.

Henry Weinhard's and Weinhard's Ireland-style Ale originally from Blitz Weinhard of Portland, OR. Weinhard's Ireland-style ale is one of the best ales I have had in a can from an established brewery. I am not sure what happened to this brewery. When Stroh's got out of the beer business and Miller and Pabst ended up with the Stroh/Heileman labels, I lost track of what happened to some of those breweries, like Rainier in Seattle, Blitz in Portland. I think Miller ended up with the Olympia brewery at Tumwater, WA.

Matt's Premium and Utica Club, from F.X. Matt in Utica, New York. Saranac is now the most visible label from this brewery (and I enjoy most of their brands, but we don't see them that often in Atlanta).

The historic beers from the old Narragansett Brewery in Cranston, RI. These included Ballantine Ale, Ballantine India Pale Ale, Haffenreffer Malt Liquor, Narragansett, Narragansett Porter, and Falstaff. When Falstaff closed that brewery, it shifted some of the brands to its Fort Wayne brewery and they were still fairly decent, but now that brewery is long gone. I will post on the complicated history of Falstaff at a later time.

Point Special, from Stevens Point, WI. In 1982, I took a trip up to Wisconsin and visited the four surviving regional breweries at that time, Stevens Point, Walter, Huber, and Leinenkugel. Stevens Point is still in business but I haven't been close to their sales area in years, Walter is gone, Huber is still in business, but largely known for the Berghoff brands, and Leinenkugel's has been owned by Miller for years. Some of the Leinenkugel brands are available in Georgia, but not their lager.

Yuengling Porter. Some of the Yuengling brands are available in NC and FL, including the Black and Tan, but I haven't had the Porter in years. It was a mainstay, before the availability of microbrewery beers, if you wanted something out of the ordinary.

Celis White and Celis Grand Cru, formerly brewed in Austin, TX. This microbrewery, specializing in Belgian-style beers, was purchased by Miller and absolutely ruined. Which is odd, as Miller seems to have done well with their 1980s purchase of Leinenkugel, of Chippewa Falls, WI.

Schmaltz's Alt, August Schell, of New Ulm, MN still brews this brand, it was an excellent (in my opinion) German-style dark ale. I just haven't been in Schell's territory for a long time.

Heileman's Old Style, from their La Crosse, WI brewery. That brewery is now an independently-owned brewery and I haven't had any of their beers to see if they are similar to Old Style.

If I think of more, I may add them, as I continue to wax nostalgic.

My Last Bottle of Dogwood Imperial Porter

Dogwood Brewing Company, one of my local favorites went out of business a few months ago and I put aside a small stash of their new Imperial Porter and last night I finished my last bottle. Sweet memories. Before they closed, I got to try a "short-fill" bottle of their barleywine, which never made it to market. It was very smooth, without the bite that many barleywines have.

I wonder what happened to the rest of those bottles? They were sitting in the brewery, awaiting labels. I may have a few bottles of their stout left in the back of my pantry (out of the light), so there may be a few more memories left.

For those not familiar, an imperial porter is dark like a stout, but without as much of the bitterness of a stout. Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter (honoring Hunter S. Thompson) is similar and is also good, as are most of the Flying Dog products. It is just that their bottle labels, designed by Ralph Steadman are illustrative of what happens to someone that stayed in the mindset of the 1970s a little too long. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Our Role in the American Beer Renaissance

Next time you enjoy a glass of craft beer from a microbrewery or a brewpub, there are two groups of people that you can thank.

First are the people that take the risks to open new breweries, which are capital intensive and there are always numerous governmental hoops through which to jump. Some breweries fizzle within months, others within a few years. Others, like Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. will be arriving at their 25th anniversary next year.

Second are the beer can/breweriana collectors. Beginning in St. Louis in 1971, the Beer Can Collectors began as an organization of people dedicated to collecting of beer cans. As collectors and the hobby matured, some people branched into collecting other forms of breweriana (glassware, coasters, labels, trays, etc.). We also learned about the history of various breweries along the way. When engaging in conversation with someone at a party, if the subject drifted to beer, often the remark would come up that "my grandfather used to drink Grain Belt Beer (for instance)". A knowledgeable collector could explain what happened to that particular brewery. In this case, though the original Grain Belt Brewing Co. is long gone, it is still being brewed by the August Schell Brewing Co., in New Ulm, MN..

In our quests to get cans to trade through the mail with other collectors, we would scour liquor and beer stores while traveling and would occasionally go on long-distance "beer runs". In the early 1980s (before I was married), I traveled cheap in a longbed Datsun pickup truck, sleeping at KOAs, to afford the beer runs. In 1981, to pick up beer for a friend's wedding, I traveled to Frankenmuth, MI, then across Ohio, then through Pennsylvania and arrived back in Atlanta with 22 cases of different beers, some unusual ones in bottles, too (Thank God for air shocks!). I would throw my sleeping bag on top of the case boxes and sleep when exhausted. In 1982, I went through Ohio, and then up to Wisconsin and brought back about a dozen cases of different beers.

In sharing these beers with friends, it illustrated that there was more to American beer than the major brands. It helped remind them of the diversity that used to be the norm in American brewing. At one time, Philadelphia had 42 breweries and the greater Cincinnati area had 26. In short, we are the historians.

Other collectors were no doubt doing the same thing. This helped keep some of the local and regional breweries alive for a while longer and it helped prepare consumers for the advent of microbreweries, the first of which was the New Albion Brewing Co. of Sonoma, California in 1976 or 1977. Other early ones (not in chronological order) included Cartwright Brewing Co. of Portland, Oregon; Boulder Brewing Co., originally of Longmont, then Boulder Colorado; River City Brewing Co. of Sacramento, California; and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., of Chico, California (linked above). Of these pioneers, only Sierra Nevada and Boulder survive, though Boulder has undergone some ownership changes along the way.

Another contributor was Fritz Maytag, when he bought the declining Anchor Brewing Co. in 1965. Though not technically a microbrewery, because it was already established, his dedication to brewing higher quality beers helped pave the way, also.

The microbrewery/brewpubs are collectively known as craft breweries and trying their wares can be an adventure. The deck is stacked against them from the start. Many good breweries have closed due to insufficient start-up funds. They don't have the advantage of high-tech labs for troubleshooting, like the major breweries have. They don't have the market share needed to be treated with respect by most distributors. And to some extent, for at least a while, there seemed to be more breweries than there were qualified brewers, so quality and consistency could be a problem. When one is trying microbrews, one needs to remember that it is not unusual for there to be slight variations from one batch to another. And many of their brews are more intense than many people are prepared for. Major American beers are brewed to appeal to a wider range of consumers. Many microbrews may be bitter or too hoppy at first taste.

But I would appeal to you to give them a try, rather than bringing home those mass-marketed foreign beers. Keep our brewery workers employed!

This is Why We Enjoy Brewpubs.

For the last few years, in January, the Bama Cannas Chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America (formerly the Beer Can Collectors of America) hold a trade session at the Olde Auburn Ale House in Auburn, Alabama. When you have so many good varieties of fresh draft beer at hand, it is hard to wait until 11 or 11:30 AM to have your first beer. The show starts at 8:30 AM. Those are three long hours. And no, I don't have a pint of each. I enjoy a "sampler platter" in which each glass holds about a 4 oz. sample of beer. Then I enjoy a pint of my favorite. I am something of a hophead, so this day I had a pint of the IPA and the Hopdragon, but then I didn't have to drive.

If you are ever in the Auburn area, the brewpub is in the downtown area, a little off the beaten path, so you may have to call to get directions. It is worth a stop.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Some of My Favorite Texas Beer Cans

Falstaff - The subject of a future post (soon), they had a brewery in El Paso (1957-1967), also had a Galveston Brewery until about 1978.
Golden Grain - brewed by Mitchell's, the local El Paso brewery, may have been a store brand, as it was later brewed by a California brewery after Mitchell's closed.
Grand Prize - Gulf Brewing Co., owned by Howard Hughes, closed in the mid to late 1950s.
Hamms - bought the brewery from Howard Hughes, operated it for a few years.
Lone Star - was a part of Texas lore from about the 1940s until Stroh closed the brewery in the early 1990s (gasp, my memory is starting to fade, need more beer...). Now brewed by Miller at Fort Worth. The silver can is Lone Star Draft.
Mitchell's - the local El Paso brewery, built on the site of the old pre-Prohibition El Paso Brewing Assoc., operated until about 1957, when Harry Mitchell sold the brewery to Falstaff.
Pearl - opened in 1886, operated until perhaps a couple of years ago, was also part of Texas lore for decades. Now brewed by Miller at Fort Worth. My keg parties in El Paso were always Pearl keg parties. I remember a bar in El Paso that served Pearl until about 1979 and they sold 16 oz. draft glasses for 30 cents.
Shiner - from the Spoetzl Brewery, last original Texas brewery, still in business, owned by the company that imports Corona. I once hauled a pony keg of Shiner Beer from Shiner, Texas to Atlanta for a party (while going home to visit family during the summer). I spent more money on ice than on the beer.
Southern Select - Galveston-Houston Brewing Co., it may have been the brewery that later became the Falstaff Brewery in Galveston, will have to check on that one. The can on the left is called a crowntainer.
Time - a conetop from a short-lived Dallas brewery.

Some good ones that are missing include Bluebonnet, a conetop from Dallas, and Travis, a very rare conetop from San Antonio.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Will Get Caught Up Soon

I had format problems with my primary blog and this one (same template). Now that the problems are fixed, I will being building this one. I will bring forth some interesting trivia, that I hope you will enjoy, so check back soon!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?