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

Friday, August 26, 2005

From The Land of Pleasant Living...

Just reminiscing about my favorite cheap beer...National Bohemian.

It was nothing special, just a good, clean tasting light lager beer from Baltimore. It may have been sold in Georgia for short time periods in the past, but I had to rely on infrequent trips to the Mid-Atlantic states or for visits from family or friends from that area to get a 12 pack or so.

The brewery in Baltimore closed a few years ago and production was shifted briefly to the Stroh's brewery at Lehigh Valley, PA. But it just didn't taste the same. I don't know if it is still being produced, if so, it is by Pabst through a contract with Miller. I believe that particular brewery in Lehigh Valley (originally built by Schaefer) is now owned by Guinness.

[Update: I found a blog dedicated to National Bohemian and life in Baltimore. And apparently Natty Boh is being brewed at Wilkes-Barre, PA by the Lion Brewing Co.]

Just what is a "Bohemian-style pilsener"? Among the American lagers previously identified as Bohemian Pilseners included Wiedemann (from Newport, KY), Stroh's, even Budweiser.

Bohemian-style pilseners are identified by Beer Advocate as Czech Pilseners and are described as:

"The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to its namesake, the ancient city of Plzen (or Pilsen) which is situated in the western half of the Czech Republic in what was once Czechoslovakia and previously part of the of Bohemian Kingdom. Pilsner beer was first brewed back in the 1840's when the citizens, brewers and maltsters of Plzen formed a brewer's guild and called it the People's Brewery of Pilsen.

The Czech Pilsner, or sometimes known as the Bohemian Pilsner, is light straw to golden color and crystal clear. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of the Saaz hop. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, many are grassy. Some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose like alcohol) flavors and aromas."

Some good examples of this style of beer identified by Beer Advocate include:

Pilsner Urquell, Czechvar, Staropramen Lager, all of these are imports. Most of the American versions, given good reviews by Beer Advocate writers, were from local microbreweries or brewpubs. Check it out and see if any are from your area.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Beer Can and Breweriana Collecting

The above pictured almost-mint condition "flattop" cans from the late 1930s to the early 1960s represent some of the elite collectibles among those that specialize in cans. They can range in value from $10 to the thousands. For those on a budget or in it just for fun, there can be rusty varieties of the same rare cans that range in value from .25 to $10 or $20.

But what is breweriana? It is beer-related containers and advertising materials, i.e., almost anything that has a brewery logo. There are three major breweriana collecting organizations, the B.C.C.A. - Brewery Collectibles Club of America (originally the Beer Can Collectors of America); the A.B.A. - the American Breweriana Association; and the N.A.B.A. - National Association of Brewery Advertising. Each of these organizations has a number of local chapters.

It seems that the earliest type of beer collectible (breweriana) of significant varieties were the metal bottle caps (crowns) developed in the 1890s. At that time, many of the bottles were returnable, embossed bottles. As more beer bottles appeared with paper labels, the labels became a popular collectible. With the approach of Prohibition in 1920, there were individuals that "squirreled away" items from the many breweries faced with closure.

The end of Prohibition in 1933 was followed by the debut of the first beer can in 1935 and the associated can opener. The novelty of beer in cans and their "stackability" (as opposed to bottles) let bar owners, brewery employees, and other individuals to start collecting cans. Many of the breweries that re-opened after the 13 years of closure during Prohibition went out of business within a short time. Most of the breweries that "kept busy" during Prohibition by making near beer, soft drinks, ice cream, or other products were more well-prepared to re-enter the business. Many of the breweries that had shut down completely during Prohibition encountered numerous equipment problems from lack of use during those 13 years. Thus, there were a large number of "short-run" brands from the middle and late 1930s. The few individual collectors lacked a method of contacting one another to swap cans, unless they found one another by accident or word-of-mouth.

The B.C.C.A. is the oldest of the three organizations. It began in 1970 in the St. Louis, MO area. An October 20, 1969 article in the St. Louis Globe Democrat featured the beer can collection of local resident Denver Wright, Jr.. Several other individual collectors contacted him after reading the article and in April 1970, the Beer Can Collectors of America was born. The collectors visited each other's homes and swapped their extra cans. Word of mouth and news reports helped spread the word.

Over the years, the hobby that began with the swapping of beer cans (buying and selling was severely frowned upon) has matured into the buying and selling of breweriana items at shows and on ebay that can reach into the thousands of dollars. The mid-1970s debut of microbreweries produced a new wave of brewery collectibles (labels, bottles, crowns, coasters, glassware, and even a few cans) and because some of the new breweries didn't last long, some of these items are now becoming rare. Items such as coasters and labels are popular because they are easy to mail and do not take up as much space as cans or bottles.

The peak of B.C.C.A. membership was 1978 during the "fad period" (see the Billy Beer post), when there were 12,000 members. Since the late 1980s or so, the membership has remained consistently near 4,000. It is estimated that for every B.C.C.A. member, there are 9 other collectors in the U.S.. B.C.C.A. membership is open to people from other countries and the B.C.C.A. website links to collectors clubs in those nations.

Membership in these three organizations carries the following benefits (they vary somewhat between these organizations:
1) A membership roster, making easier to contact fellow collectors.
2) A "grapevine" through which to swap information.
3) An annual national convention and numerous regional shows.
4) A periodic journal/magazine devoted to the hobby.

The B.C.C.A.'s CANVENTION® is the most well-known of the national meetings. The term was coined during the first B.C.C.A. convention in 1970 in St. Louis, MO.. CANVENTION 35 is in Charlotte, NC from August 31 - September 3, 2005 in the Charlotte Convention Center. Unofficial events usually include a local microbrewery/brewpub tour before the CANVENTION and other activities for family members that want to see local sights. During the CANVENTION, there are meetings of various local and at-large chapters devoted to particular speciality items, Microbrewery Night, a business meeting and several days of a trade floor with buying, selling, and trading between collectors takes place. There is also "room-to-room" trading. The CANVENTION is open only to members, except on Saturday morning, when the public is usually invited into the trade floor area. Next year, the CANVENTION is in Kansas City, MO..

You don't have to drink beer to collect these items. Some of local chapter (club) members simply enjoy the artwork on the cans and other collectibles. Or they enjoy the company of fellow eccentrics. There is a wide range of professions in the hobby, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, military members, farmers, truck drivers, homemakers, a priest, and even a NASCAR driver, Rich Bickle. We have three geologists in our local chapter.

As mentioned earlier, there are specialty chapters, one of which is the Rusty Bunch, whose members take to the woods in search of past-discarded cans in old dumps (we call this activity dumping, of course). The idea is similar to adding a "filler" coin or stamp to a collection, i.e., an off-grade example of a rare can that can be hopefully upgraded in the future. But sometimes, people prefer to keep their dumper cans, as there can be quite entertaining (and sometimes harrowing) stories associated with getting old beer cans.

If you live near a large or medium-sized city, there is a chance that there is a local beer can/breweriana show sometime during the year. The local shows are easier for non-members to attend just to have a "look around". Or maybe pick up a few items for their rec room or den that remind them of the beer that Grandpa (or Grandma) used to enjoy.

Friday, August 12, 2005

What is an Ale? - Pale Ales and India Pale Ales

As Ales represent a broad category, they will presented in small servings, for your enjoyment. This serving is of Pale Ales and India Pale Ales, both of which generally appeal to people that like the pronounced hop aroma and flavor.

From www.beeradvocate.com, Ales are distinguished from lager beers by the use of "top fermenting yeast strains, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The top fermenting yeast perform at warmer temperatures than do yeast's used to brew lager beer, and their byproducts are more evident in taste and aroma. Fruitiness and esters are often part of an ale's character."

The "ale culture" was largely brought to America by immigrants from the British Isles. More recently, Belgian Ales have found a following among some American consumers. They are quite different from the British/American ales.

A Beer Advocate comparison of Pale Ales finds that "American versions tend to be cleaner and hoppier, while British tend to be more malty, buttery, aromatic and balanced." Many people agree that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to be the classic of the American Pale Ale style.

British Pale Ales are described as being "traced back to the city of Burton-upon-Trent, a city with an abundance of rich hard water. This hard water helps with the clarity as well as enhancing the hop bitterness. This ale can be from golden to reddish amber in color with generally a good head retention. A mix of fruity, hoppy, earthy, buttery and malty aromas and flavors can be found. Typically all ingredients are English." Royal Oak Pale Ale is cited as a good example of a British Pale Ale.

India Pale Ales were "first brewed in England and exported for the British troops in India during the late 1700s. To withstand the voyage, IPA's were basically tweaked Pale Ales that were, in comparison, much more malty, boasted a higher alcohol content and were well-hopped, as hops are a natural preservative. Historians believe that an IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savor the beer at full strength. The English IPA has a lower alcohol due to taxation over the decades. The leaner the brew the less amount of malt there is and less need for a strong hop presence which would easily put the brew out of balance. Some brewers have tried to recreate the original IPA with strengths close to 8-9% abv." Fuller's India Pale Ale is cited as a good example of a UK-brewed English IPA.

American IPAs are described as having "a different soul from the reincarnated IPA style. More flavorful than the withering English IPA, color can range from very pale golded to reddish amber. Hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt back bone." Ballantine India Pale Ale was the first example of this style that many Americans experienced, it was especially good when brewed at the former Narragansett brewery in Cranston, RI. As Ballantine IPA is probably no longer available, I now enjoy Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale, Sweetwater IPA,

As is the American habit of having to "make everything bigger", there are Double IPAs, described as "Take an India Pale Ale and feed it steroids, ergo the term Double IPA. Although open to the same interpretation as its sister styles, you should expect something robust, malty, alcoholic and with a hop profile that might rip your tongue out." Rogue I2PA (Imperial India Pale Ale) and Flying Dog Wild Dog Double Pale Ale are cited as good examples.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

What is Bock Beer?

Before there were microbreweries and brewpubs...

Aside from ales and dark lagers, the most exotic brews most American beer drinkers sampled were bock beers. Bock beers are a type of dark lager developed primarily in Germany and Czechoslovakia. By tradition, they are a late Winter/early Spring offering.

The seasonal nature of bocks also make bock collectibles more desireable. Some of the favorite bock beer cans include Budweiser Bock and A-1 Bock (from Phoenix), both of which were only canned for one year. Some collectors specialize in bock collectibles.

Some people remember bock by the traditional goat icons (explained below) and some by the erroneous belief that bock beer represented the "sludge" from the bottom of the brewers aging tanks. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the beer business, cleanliness is paramount and everything is cleaned between batches.

In the past, many American brewers had bock beers, including Budweiser and Schlitz. By the 1970s and early 1980s, from my vantage point in Georgia, the only American bock beers were Pabst Blue Ribbon Bock and Stroh's Bock. In the Knoxville, TN area there was Schoenling Bock from Cincinnati. After I moved to Texas, I became familiar with Shiner Bock, which was a year-round offering. There were a few other local bocks that persisted.

www.BeerAdvocate.com has these words to describe the most familar type of bock:

"The origins of Bock beer are quite uncharted. Back in medieval days German monasteries would brew a strong beer for sustenance during their Lenten fasts. Some believe the name Bock came from the shortening of Einbeck thus "beck" to "bock." Others believe it is more of a pagan or old world influence that the beer was only to be brewed during the sign of the Capricorn goat and that "bock" means goat in German. Basically this beer was a symbol of better times to come and moving away from winter.

As for the beer itself in modern day, it is a bottom fermenting lager that generally takes extra months of lagering (cold storage) to smooth out such a strong brew. Bock beer in general is stronger than your typical lager, more of a robust malt character with a dark amber to brown hue. Hop bitterness can be assertive enough to balance though must not get in the way of the malt flavor, most are only lightly hopped."

Aside from the traditional Bock, other sub-categories include the stronger Doppelbock, Eisbock, and Maibock/Hellesbock.

Without offering any endorsements, as tastes vary individually (see the individual listings from Beer Advocate), some of the ones I have tried include:
Bock - Michelob Amber Bock, Shiner Bock, Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, Christian Moerlein Bock, Leinenkugel Bock, Point Bock, Lone Star Bock.
Doppelbock - Samuel Adams Doppelbock, Thomas Creek Doppelbock, Samichlaus Bier (from Austria - 14% alcohol).
Eisbock - Coors had one a few years ago, haven't tried any others lately.
Maibock/Hellesbock - Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Flying Dog Hellerhound Bock, Gordon Biersch Maibock, Five Seasons Me262 Maibock.

Samuel Adams Triple Bock is an intense experience. I have two bottles that have been aging since purchased in Dallas, Texas in 1994 and 1995. When fresh, they were comparable to ports, meant to be sipped. At the time, their 17.50% alcohol was the highest available in the world, in fact they had to use champagne yeast, as the high alcohol content killed off the beer and ale yeast tried. Sometime I will open them in the company of friends, to try to see if aging has treated them well (the opinions on Beer Advocate raise doubts).

As I don't get to travel much during Bock season and I generally prefer American beers, I have yet to try the vast majority of the listed brands on these webpages.

Any feedback would be appreciated, if you have a favorite bock beer.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Pittsburgh Brewing Company Needs Your Help

How can you help? By buying some of their beer, silly!

Here is a news article that reports some of the ongoing financial problems the brewery is facing.

Come on, if you are buying Corona or Heineken, put that stuff aside and help keep American brewery workers employed. There is a lot of brewing history (144 years) in Pittsburgh with the Iron City brands and also the Falls City (formerly of Louisville, KY).

This article explains some of the problems facing the few surviving regional breweries in the U.S. as they compete with national brewers and fad-driven imports.

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