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Category Archives: Beer history

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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Green beer’s dubious beginnings

Green-BeerGreen beer has become a staple of many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all across the United States. But, who came up with the original idea and why would someone take a perfectly good beer and turn it a most unnatural shade of green? By most accounts, the story of green beer goes back to New York City 102 years ago.

In the mostly Irish neighborhoods of the New York City borough the Bronx, a coroner and toastmaster by the name Dr. Thomas Hayes Curtin – himself an Irish immigrant — debuted his invention at a social club during a St. Patrick’s Day feast. Guests at the feast were astonished and delighted at the wondrous beer before them.

“No, it wasn’t a green glass, but real beer in a regular colorless glass,” wrote syndicated columnist, Charles Henry Adams in his column New York Day by Day, March 26, 1914. “But the amber hue was gone from the brew and a deep green was there instead.”

When pressed for the detail of how he had created the deep green brew, Adams reported that Curtin was reserved in his response. He would only say that the effect was achieved by adding a single drop of “wash blue” – an iron-based wash additive used to whiten clothes – to a certain volume of beer. He did not divulge the exact amount of beer he added the toxic substance to change it green but it was presumably a large enough volume to dilute the poisonous effects of wash blue.

But, another newspaper, the Spokane Press, also made mention of a green beer in 1910. Under a headline proclaiming, “Green Beer Be Jabbers!” (be jabbers is apparently an excited swear) the newspaper relates an account of a local bar pouring green beer. But, the beer did not get its color artificially.

“It is a regular beer,” the paper reported. “Apparently it has not been colored locally. It tastes like beer and looks like paint, or rather like the deep green waves in mid-ocean with the sun striking them through.”

The article went on to say that the bartender was the only person that knew how the beer had turned green and he was not revealing the secret.

“All day he has been drawing from one of the regular taps,” the article said. “And no one has seen him dump in any arsenic.”

A comforting thought, that.

The idea of serving green beer itself may have come from an old Irish tradition called “drowning the shamrock.” Men were said to have dropped a shamrock into their whiskey after parades and special events. The custom was meant to bring good luck to the imbiber because of the holy meaning ascribed to shamrocks.

Legend has it that St. Patrick himself used the abundant shamrock as a prop to explain the concept of the holy trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost — to King Laoghaire of Ireland in the early days of the Catholic church. The holiday now celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day began as a holy fest day to honor Patrick’s death on March 17, 461. Because the feast day falls in the middle of Lent when Catholics are supposed to practice abstinence from meat and alcohol, the church lifted the restrictions giving rise to over-consumption since Lent had several weeks left.

Whether green beer began in New York or Spokane, one thing is certain, there will be plenty of green beer flowing from taps next week for St. Patrick’s Day. Though now beer is tinted green with food coloring rather than poison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2017 in Beer, Beer history

 

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Beer and baseball; a match made in St. Louis

browns_beerAs Spring Training hits its stride, I thought you might enjoy reading a bit about how two of America’s summertime favorites came together. Originally published in my Folio Weekly column Pint-Sized last summer, this piece explains the magical marriage of beer and baseball.

Baseball is a game steeped in nostalgia. Every crack of the bat hitting a ball evokes memories of sluggers from the past like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Lou Gehrig. The cheer of the crowd mingles with the smell of popcorn and hot dogs. And, perhaps the most important part of the experience is the shout of vendors announcing, “Cold beer here!”

Beer and baseball are a given today. The beverage is so entrenched in the game that its absence would seem odd. But, the love affair of beer and baseball was not always so fervent. In the beginning the National League did not want beer in its ballparks when it debuted in 1876. It took the American Association’s entry to bring beer to the game.

In 1882, the AA came to the realization that baseball should appeal to blue collar workers as well as the upper crust. To draw more of the working class to games, the AA lowered ticket prices, scheduled games on Sundays and offered alcohol for sale at the games. This approach appealed to the marketing gurus at breweries so much that many of the teams were backed by them. But, the AA could not sustain operations and folded after the 1891 season. Players were absorbed by the NL and, because of its popularity, alcohol sales became the norm in NL ballparks.

One of the earliest instances of a team embracing beer in the ballpark is the case of the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The team, later to be known as the Cardinals, was owned by Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Von Der Ahe a saloon owner who noticed that business in his bar increased on game days. With this information, Van Der Ahe surmised that spectators would likely enjoy a few brews during a game and he installed a beer garden at the team’s home, Sportsman’s Park. The idea was a hit.

Over the years, beer has grown to be inextricably associated with the game. Breweries took notice of the popularity of baseball and began to formulate marketing campaigns. In 1941, Falstaff began sponsoring Dizzy Dean’s radio broadcasts of Browns games and 30 years later sponsored Harry Carey’s “Holy cow!” punctuated broadcasts.

Brewers began positioning themselves with local baseball teams and formed relationships to be the official beers of teams and stadiums. In New York, the Yankees became associated with Ballantine and the Mets sidled up to Rheingold. Beer was so popular in baseball that Milwaukee, a bastion of German beer production, named their team the Brewers. The big beer producers became almost synonymous with baseball with advertising in stadiums, sponsorship of broadcasts – both radio and television – and stadiums named for brands.

Today, with the craft beer revolution in full swing, ballparks are adding locally-brewed beers to their lineup. In Jacksonville, our minor league team the Suns, serve several local brews from Intuition Ale Works, Bold City and more as well as a selection of craft beers from brewers outside the area.

As an experience, sitting in the stands of a stadium, watching the heroes of the diamond gracefully make plays would just not feel complete without a hot dog in one hand and a cold beer in the other. It’s perhaps the most perfect way to spend a balmy summer evening – and perhaps the most American.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2017 in Beer, Beer history

 

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