German beer subject of world’s oldest consumer law

reinheitsgebot-300x251If you have ever had a mug of a German beer, you know that it can be a transcendent experience. Known for their exceptional lagers, Germans reign supreme as the world’s top beer brewers. But, the road to that supremacy began more than 500 years ago when the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm IV, issued the original decree that led to what is now known as the German Purity Law. The Reinheitsgebot (pronounced: rine-hites-geh-boat) reigns as one of the oldest consumer protection laws still enforced.

In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV sought to protect his subjects from unscrupulous brewers and tavern owners by stipulating how much could be charged for beer and what it could contain. Geographic boundaries were set for pricing beer and the law provided for fluctuations in pricing if economic circumstances warranted. By restricting the price publicans could charge for beer, the Duke made it more accessible to his subjects and limited price gouging.

The good Duke was also concerned about the purity of the beer being produced for consumption by his subjects, so he included in the decree a restriction on the ingredients. Many beers of the time were routinely brewed by irresponsible brewers with ingredients like ash, sawdust and even roots – some of them poisonous – to bring down the cost of production and maximize profit. To combat this, the original decree stated, “…in all our towns, marketplaces and the whole of the countryside, beer shall have no other ingredients than barley, hops, and water.”

While the new law put an end to beer made with dangerous additives, it was also intended to help the bakery industry by limiting brewers to the use of barley. This increased the supply of wheat and rye for baked products and insured that both bread and beer would be plentiful. The law also made it illegal to use ingredients like gruit – a mixture of herbs like sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow, horehound and heather – that religious conservatives believed were used in pagan rituals.

Through the years, the original Purity Law underwent several changes, but the spirit of the law remained. It formed the basis of beer laws that spread throughout Germany and contributed to the extinction of several Northern German beer styles such as spiced and cherry beers. As Germany entered the Industrial Age, Bavaria insisted upon the Purity Law be applied throughout Germany as a condition of unification. This met with heavy opposition from brewers in the north, but the law was eventually enacted with heavy taxes placed on outside ingredients rather than an outright ban.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the law was first referred to as Reinheitsgebot and was finally applied consistently throughout Germany as the law governing beer production. Curiously, as the tumultuous events of the 1900s ground on, brewers and even consumers began to embrace the law. The purity of German beer became of pride and an important marketing tool. It became so deeply rooted in tradition that no self-respecting German would think of drinking anything other than a Reinheitsgebot-compliant beer.

Now, 500 years later, the craft beer revolution is taking Europe by storm. As a younger generation of beer-drinkers seeks styles that do not comply with the Purity Law, the law is being called in to question. Whether the Reinheitsgebot can survive is yet to be seen. But, the superiority it brought to German beer can never be denied.

Here are some traditional, Reinheitsgebot compliant German beers you can try locally:

Spaten Dunkel

Founded more than 600 years ago, the Spaten brwery has adhered to the since its inception. The brewery’s Dunkel is a malty, dark departure from the typical German light lager. This brew is highly recommended as an accompaniment with rich meats and stews.

Weihenstephaner Pilsner

Crisp and highly-carbonated, this brew is a standard of the German Pilsner style. It is especially refreshing when served very cold and enjoyed with the afternoon sea breeze.

Gaffel Koelsch

While most German beers are lagers, Koesch is an ale. Brewed only in the German city of Cologne, this style is slightly fruity with a crisp, hoppy finish.





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Posted by on June 21, 2017 in Beer, Beer history


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American Homebrewers Association names Best Beers in America 2017

best_beers_2017The American Homebrewers Association’s (AHA) member magazine, Zymurgy, has released it annual Zymurgy’s Best Beers in America list for 2017 and for the first time since 2008, Russian River’s Pliney the Elder is not at the top of the list. This year, the survey that polls readers of the magazine named Bell’s Two Hearted as the number one beer in the land. Pliney slides to second and Founders Breakfast Stout takes the third place position. Bell’s also took the top spot for best brewery.

“As homebrewers, Zymurgy readers have more refined palates than most for tasting beer,” said Gary Glass, director, American Homebrewers Association in a press release. “The Best Beers in America survey reveals which beers are leaving the biggest impression on the minds—and mouths—of these discerning beer drinkers.”

Bell’s Brewing Company began when Larry Bell brewed his first commercial batch of beer 32 years ago in Kalamazoo, Mich. Using a 15-gallon soup pot, Bell coaxed 135 barrels of beer from his makeshift system by 1986, just one year after beginning his new venture. Just three years later, the brewery was producing 500 barrels of beer per year. In the years since then Bell’s has grown to add additional breweries, a 200-barrel brewhouse, a cafe and an additional brewing company.

“This is an incredible honor for us. We got our start as homebrewers—that’s how my dad got going—so we really identify with the homebrewing community,” said Laura Bell, CEO, Bell’s Brewery, whose father, Larry, started the brewery in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Mich. “We take a lot of that spirit into what we do today.”

Each year, for the past 15 years, Zymurgy has asked its readers to provide a list of their top 20, commercially available beers. The magazine then uses that information to compile rankings for top beer, top brewery, top imports and brewery with best overall portfolio.

The survey results read like a dream shipping list of highly-coveted beers, heavy on IPAs, but with stouts and a few other styles sprinkled in. Notable among the non-IPA and non-stout entries are Boulevard’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale a fruity, complex saison with a peppery, dry finish and Odell’s 90 Shilling a lighter, smoother version of a traditional Scottish ale. California breweries dominate the top 10 breweries list taking seven spots with breweries like Sierra Nevada, Stone and Firestone Walker. Not surprisingly Belgian or Belgian-style beers controlled the top import list with Canadian brewery Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde. Top portfolio honors went to Stone Brewing Company with 31 highly-regarded brews.

To see all the winners go to the Best Beers in America page on the American Homebrewers Association website at:



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Posted by on June 20, 2017 in Beer, Beer News


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Saisons, summer’s great refresher

saisonWhen summer’s heat gets unbearable, reach for a refreshing saison to help cool you down. Before the time of refrigeration, some beers were brewed in the cooler months of the year and laid down for use in the warmer months of summer. This method required the beers to be hearty enough to survive for months in the cask, but not so strong that they could only be consumed moderately. After all, saisons – the word literally means in season in French – were meant as thirst-quenchers not barn-burning party brews.

As is the case with many beers, saisons were originally brewed to fill a specific need. In the early 1700s, Europe was in the midst of a water crisis – teeming with potentially lethal microbes, water was undrinkable. A solution had to be found or the population would dwindle in the grips of dysentery.  The answer came in the form of beer. Though water was decidedly not potable, beer made from that water was safe to drink and, well, tasty.

The need for some sort of liquid refreshment was particularly necessary for farmhands, called les saisonniers (do you see a connection to the name of the beer – I thought you would), who toiled in the fields during the hot summers of southern Belgium. Farmers, being the practical, work-oriented sort they have always been, realized that would need to come up with a refreshing lower alcohol beer that could be used to quench the thirst of field laborers and provide vitality without the counter-productive results of a pissed workforce. Thus, the birth of saisons, low-alcohol ales designed to quench thirst and keep farm-hands working the fields.

Because each farm had its own recipe for the ales using herbs and spices abundant to them locally, an exact description is hard to pinpoint. Saison was more of an idea of how a beer of its sort would taste than a complete thought even though it occurred very commonly across the countryside.  The most common characteristics of saisons are their spicy, herbal flavor and the use of wheat as a major ingredient. Because of the wheat, the brew is generally hazy in appearance and pours with a generous, billowing head of foam.

As the world industrialized, the need for field workers diminished and the demand for saison waned. By the mid-nineteenth century, the world had become enamored with the pale lagers of Bavaria further causing the decline of seasonal beer styles and saisons. Couple that decline with the onslaught of two World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century and the fate of saison as a beer style was all but sealed.

But, even through those tumultuous times, several of the small farmhouse brewing operations survived and became full-fledged breweries producing other Belgian styles as well as their own distinctive saisons.

True to the Belgian brewer’s spirit, creative touches began to find their way into the brew. Additives like coriander and black pepper along with infusions of beet or Havana sugars began to appear raising alcohol content from around 3.5% to 7.5% or better. The color ranges from straw to that of dark honey. The aroma is often reminiscent of bananas or even bubble gum depending on what was used in the brewing process. Arguably the most complexly flavored style of beer, saisons may taste sweet, tart, crisp or herbal. Often this style is referred to as having Champagne-like qualities.

Whether you opt for a lighter, refreshing brew or a more hearty full-flavored variation, a cold saison is just the thing to quench your thirst on a hot summer afternoon.

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Posted by on June 16, 2017 in Beer


Taste for sour beer may be due to evolution

sourThe power of sour is undeniable. For centuries, breweries have been making sour beers that range from mildly tart to toe-curling, tooth enamel-eating sour. Sour beers that go by names like gose (pronounced go-zah), lambic, Berliner Weiss and more are seeing a surge in popularity rivaled only by the IPA craze of the past few years. And, with the hot, humid summer months coming, you will see more and more of these thirst-quenching beers on local shelves.

But, why do we humans have such a craving for sour things? It all goes back to biology. Sour tastes are generally associated with acids that are found in relatively few places when it comes to food. Somewhere in our evolutionary history, we lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C meaning that we had to get it from our environment in the form of food. Acids in the form of vitamin C are key nutrients in holding off a number of deadly conditions like scurvy and also help to build our immune systems. Since sour meant acid to our ancestors and that satisfied our body’s need for vitamin C, our collective physiology made us seek out acidic foods like citrus fruits.

Now that we have an idea why some of us are inclined to enjoy sour flavors, let’s take a look at how sour beer developed.

Before yeast was discovered in the late 1800’s, most beers were at least a little sour. This was because the role of yeast was not known to brewers and beer was usually brewed using open-topped fermentation vessels. Wild yeast “infected” the sugary pre-beer liquid known as wort and caused the magical process of fermentation to occur.

Once the properties of yeast were understood, breweries began to control the amount of sour flavors in their beers. Some breweries, particularly those in Belgium continued allowing their wort to “spontaneously ferment” by withholding yeast and allowing natural yeast to inoculate the liquid. From these breweries come beers such as gueuze, an intensely sour beer created from blending one, two and three year-old lambic ales.

Other sour styles such as German goze, are produced by intentionally adding yeast strains that add sour flavors to the finished beer. This style is also characterized by the addition of salt and coriander. Yet another style is Berliner Weiss a German wheat beer made with Lactobacillus bacteria and usually, but not always, served with flavored syrup. Yet another sour beer is Flanders Red named for the area of Belgium where it is made as well as the red color and sour flavor it obtains from the red wine barrels it is aged in.

Sour beers have emerged as one of the hot trends in craft beer today. You can look forward to more and more sour beer produced by craft brewers in the coming months and years.

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Posted by on June 15, 2017 in Beer, Beer Styles


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Craft beer: A catalyst for neighborhood revitalization


Springfield building under renovation to house the Main & Six Brewing Company. Photo by

Just a few months ago, I stood before members of the Jacksonville City Council several times to express my support for breweries that wanted to open in the Springfield National Historic District. I used my three minutes of speaking time to hammer some facts about the benefits of breweries to re-emerging neighborhoods like Springfield. My goal was to impress upon the voting members of the Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) committee how breweries across the country have been instrumental in the revitalization of communities.

In its article, “Craft beer’s big impact on small towns and forgotten neighborhoods,” published, June 13, online housing news site Curbed captures the same information I spoke of in an in-depth article.

The article, by Patrick Sisson, weaves a compelling tale of how breweries have brought new life to forgotten towns and neighborhoods across the country. It even holds Jacksonville’s King Street Beer District out as an example of an abandoned commercial district that has seen an amazing turn around due to craft beer and craft beer breweries.

For my research, I dug up numerous stories of down-trodden areas that were brought back to life when a craft beer brewery moved in. Notably — and also mentioned in the Curbed article — is the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. Before Great Lakes Brewing Company set up shop in 1988, the neighborhood situated immediately west of the  Cuyahoga River, was a deteriorating district marred by abandoned buildings and plagued by drugs.

Today the Ohio City neighborhood is thriving with six breweries, shops, restaurants, night clubs and residential buildings. It is a prime example of the power or craft beer to bring people in to a neighborhood they would otherwise ignore. It illustrates how a brewery tap room can become a gathering spot that can serve as a catalyst for conversation about gentrification.

Today, in Jacksonville, we in the midst of a beer-fueled revitalization of multiple forgotten neighborhoods. The neighborhood known as Silvertown adjacent to Riverside and home of the city’s first craft brewery, Bold City Brewing Company, is seeing a rise in property values and an influx of new residents intent on restoring the historic homes and residing close to the bustling beer-centric nightlife hub of King Street.

Other local breweries such as Intuition Ale Works and Engine 15 Brewing Company have opted to utilize existing building stock in crumbling areas. Intuition took up residence in an old warehouse in the city’s Sports District nearly a year ago and has seen astounding success and growth because of the decision. Engine 15 bought a couple of warehouses in the crumbling LaVilla neighborhood. The addition of a small tap room at the brewery has seen an influx of suburbanites curious to visit the location.

In Springfield the addition of Hyperion Brewing Company on long neglected Main Street has already brought visitors from other parts of the city that had long eschewed the area. Soon, a new night club/restaurant, Crispy’s, will open providing another reason for outsiders to travel to the inner city. And, in late September or early October, Main & Six Brewing Company will join the other new-comers and older properties like Wafaa & Mike’s, Uptown Kitchen & Bar and  Tapas Old World.

With more breweries planned for the coming year, Jacksonville is poised to become the next great beer destination in Florida. One can only hope that they decide to settle in one of Jacksonville’s other abandoned districts to breathe life once again in to the Bold New City of the South.

Read the entire Curbed article here.

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Posted by on June 14, 2017 in Beer, Beer News


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What beer should you serve with your ‘que?

bbqIt’s grilling season. There are only a few phrases that get me more excited than these three words. Sure, “Free beer” and “Do you want to balance the checkbook?” (a phrase my wife and I used when, well, you know…) get my blood going too, but “Its grilling season is right up there with those phrases. Let’s say it’s in third place. Now that we have established the phrases that rev my engine, let’s get down to a discussion of how beer and barbeque belong together like lovers in a Cialis commercial.

First things first; barbeque means different things to different people. For some, the simple act of throwing meat on a grill – gas, charcoal or electric – epitomizes the cooking technique. Others will disagree and say that is grilling; barbeque requires low, indirect heat and excruciatingly slow cooking. For our purposes, we will use the first definition. Meat (or veggies if that’s your thing) cooked on a grill, over a heat source is ‘que to us! And, nothing goes better with smoky, delicious grilled foods than cold beer. But, which beer goes best with each different type of food? I’m glad you asked, I have a few suggestions.


Perhaps the most common food found on grills in backyards across the country is the humble hamburger. I get weak in the knees at the thought of a medium-rare burger dripping with cheese on a potato roll with lettuce, tomato, pickles and home-made barbeque sauce (I grew up in St. Louis, so my sauce choice is sweet, brown sugar or molasses-based). Finding a beer to match this culinary equivalent of Nirvana may seem simple. Many might say just grab an IPA and go. I disagree. Sure the hoppy bitterness will provide a wonderful foil for the flavors of the burger, but a beer with a bit of smokiness will really make it sing. Try a black IPA, smoked porter or regular porter. You’ll thank me.


Beef is the king of all meats. Throw a superbly-marbled ribeye on the grill and nothing short of magic is in the offing. A rich cut of beef like this deserves a rich beer to go along with it. In this case, a stout black as midnight and thick as motor oil is just the thing. The dark, roasty flavors that develop in the kilning of malts for stouts provide a perfect contrast to the char crust that steak develops when cooked on the grill. Leaner cuts of beef like New York Strip or hanger steak require a slightly less aggressive approach. These cuts tend to be milder in flavor and thus would benefit from milder beers like brown ales.

Chicken (and anything that tastes like it)

There are several different ways you can go here. A straight-forward, throw-it-on-the-grill a slap some BBQ sauce on it preparation is most common. The crispy, umami flavor of the skin, slathered with sweet, tangy sauce just begs for a rich lager like dunkel or even a crisp, refreshing Vienna lager. For those who get a bit fancier and use citrus juices and herbs on their chicken, I recommend grassy, herbal saison. And, if you go the jerk route, you will probably want something to put out the fire in your mouth. Look for a helles lager to soothe the burn.


As I said earlier, I grew up in St. Louis. To us barbeque meant just one thing grilled pork steaks – Boston butt cut in to steaks – cooked until crispy on the edges and then glazed with sweet sauce. My father taught me to baste the steaks with beer as they cook to add yet another amazing layer of flavor. But, to others, pulled pork or ribs are the order of the day when it comes to putting the pig on the fire. No matter how you like it cooked, pair your pork with wee heavy. This Scottish style is made with smoked peat malt and is reminiscent of single-malt Scotch with its sweet, dark fruit and earthy flavors.

No matter how you define barbeque, I think we are all in agreement that any time meat meets fire good things are bound to happen. Once the cooking is done, all you need to do is arm yourself with an appropriate brew and settle in to a tasty meal.

A few brews you can find locally to pair with your charred meat include:

Orkney Skull Splitter Wee Heavy

Creamy and smooth, yet full of fruity goodness, this heavy-weight (8.5% ABV) will elevate your pork dishes in to barbeque Valhalla.

Leinenkugel’s Helles Yeah

Bright and citrusy, this Wisconsin version of the classic German style makes a great companion to spicy chicken dishes.

Intuition Ale Works King Street Stout

Locally-brewed and full on delicious, this stout will holds up nicely to a rich, thick steak.

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Posted by on June 13, 2017 in Beer, Beer Food Pairing


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Bourbon County Brand Stout variants announced

01-goose-island-bcbs-barleywineBlack Friday is getting a little bit blacker this year with Goose Island’s announcement that this year’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) release will include seven variants of the highly-coveted brew. The glut of variants come courtesy of some lost barrels that were recently found and an abundance of great brewing ideas.

As is expected, the anchor of the BCBS line is its original stout aged in fresh Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. The brewery’s website promises that this year’s edition will be good as ever and possibly a touch heavier in alcohol content.

Like the original, this year’s barleywine has been moved to fresh bourbon barrels. Because of this move, imbibers can expect higher alcohol content as well.

Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Espresso was used in the coffee variant this year marking a hearkening back to the first year BCBS was offered with a coffee variant.

Brewmaster Jared Jankoski says on Goose Island’s website that this year’s national variant, “Is from a concept that has bouncing around in my head for a couple years, combining some of my favorite flavors – blueberry and almond.”

Jankoski goes on to say that the almonds add a marzapan-like character that compliments the blueberry notes beautifully.

One of the most sought-after variants of Bourbon County Brand is the Proprietors. This year’s version is a blend of flavors that features bananas, cassia bark and roasted almonds.

The two new variants that will surely be the hottest bottles on Black Friday include what Goose Island is calling Bourbon County Brand Reserve Stout. This special edition consists of the BCBS base aged in freshly emptied 11 year old Knob Creek barrels.

The second extra variant comes courtesy of some long-lost barleywine barrels. Once found it was discovered that the barrels had been lost for two years and had aged superbly. Wanting to make the beer even more special, it was transferred to 35 year-old Heaven Hill barrels where it remained for an astounding 20 months.

With variants like this year’s the annual BCBS release on Black Friday is sure to be even more popular than in the past. My suggestion, if you want all to variants, start saving your pennies now and plan to line up very early in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving.


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Posted by on June 13, 2017 in Beer, Beer Releases


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