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

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!
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

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