| Our Beer Independence
By Glenn DeLuca
Here we are the official beginning of the summer and one of the best holidays of the
year, July 4th, Independence Day. It’s all about the official beginning of US, yes the
good ole United States of America. Without it many of the other holidays we celebrate
would not exist. And celebrate we do with pool parties, fireworks and barbeques with
plenty of burgers, dogs, salads and yes a few brews. And today there are literally
hundreds of beers to choose from in your local liquor/package/beverage barn or
whatever you want to call it store and if you go to one in another state, probably a
quarter to a half of that selection changes; and with each successive state, you find
more selections of beer than you can drink in a lifetime. With well over 4,000
breweries that makes sense. Some of it is phenomenal, some great, some good,
some average and yes some pretty awful, but it’s all about your taste and what you
like and therefore it should be easy to find something that suits your palate.
But it took approximately 200 years after our country’s independence for the craft
beer revolution to begin. Before that we were a country of mostly lager beer with our
national selections of Bud, Schlitz, Miller and PBR; our larger regionals of Strohs,
Heilemans, Olympia, Hamms, Pearl, Narragansett and our smaller locals, in this area,
Ballantine, Schaefer, Knickerbocker and Piels (who could forget Bert and Harry!).
In the 70’s and early 80’s we started to get more imported beers, helping to expand
our taste buds, but we didn’t know in some cases we weren’t getting the real stuff.
Because to be imported into the US, it could only be so strong or as we now refer to it
as ABV. So we weren’t getting real Heineken or real Labatts or real Molson, let’s not
call it watered down, let’s call it reformulated.
But hey whether it be the US lagers or the imports it was way better than Prohibition
and drinking whatever you could get your hands on; no question way better. But
some dreamed of more and some acted on it and they should be considered the
forefathers of our craft beer revolution who allow us the freedom today to drink so
many different styles from so many different brewers. So when we’re hoisting a cold
one on Independence Day we should also be thanking them for making it possible for
us to have the choices we do today.
In 1965 Fritz Maytag heard Anchor Brewing, established in 1896, was about to close
so initially bought a controlling interest. It was a good flavorful local beer, but had
production and cleanliness issues that lead to batches of sour/bad beer. He basically
staked a substantial portion of his inheritance to overhaul much, including the recipe,
and over time it became very popular. Since he couldn’t produce enough for demand
and didn’t want to build a new brewery, he began working with others to help them
also produce good microbrews, thereby increasing supply and lessening his demand.
And Anchor was a pioneer in many ways. In the early 70’s they introduced four-packs
to keep the price close to mainstream six-packs and in 1972, the first porter in
modern times. 1975 was a banner year with the first American barley wine, the first
American seasonal, a Christmas Ale and their Liberty Ale, which used a generous
amount of Cascade hop and became the prototype for today’s IPA. I do remember
years ago being able to obtain and afford Anchor Steam and it was always a
The birth of the microbrewery quietly began in 1976 when Jack McAuliffe, a
homebrewer and engineer strongly influenced by Fritz Maytag, began New Albion
Brewing Co in northern CA. He basically cobbled together a three level brewery to
use gravity instead of pumps along with lots of 55 galloon Coca Cola syrup drums for
vessels and fermenters, a WWII era bottler and a 1910 bottle labeler. Amazing how
creative you can be since there weren’t all the manufacturers of this equipment back
then. People loved his beer and he couldn’t keep up with demand. He also couldn’t
get any financing to improve and expand so after six years he closed because he
couldn’t make a profit. His work has been coined “the most important failed brewery
in the industry’s history” and is considered a microbrewery blueprint. I’ve never had
the opportunity to try it. Boston Beer, which had bought the name brought New Albion
Ale back to the marketplace in 2012 and transferred the rights back, which Jack in
turn gave to his daughter. It’s now being contract brewed in Cleveland, so hopefully I’
ll get to try sometime.
Another influenced by both Fritz and Jack were homebrewers Ken Grossman and
Paul Camusi. In 1979 they borrowed $50,000 and build a brewery out of discarded
dairy equipment and scrapyard metal and in November 1980 released their first
batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. As did most everyone they struggled early, but did
not suffer the fate of many as they survived and have grown today to be one of the
country’s largest independent craft brewers.
In 1983 Michael Laybourn and Norman Franks created The Hopland Brewery, bought
the brewing equipment from pioneer microbrewery New Albion and hired Jack
McAulfife to run it. McAuliffe came up with the recipe for their flagship Red Tail Ale,
an amber ale, and made it the cornerstone of California’s first brewpub, only the
second one in the country. Renamed the Mendocino Brewing Company in 1984 they
decided to expand by selling shares by doing a direct public offering using
announcements in their six-packs.
By 1997 UB Group of India had bought controlling interest. UB Group also bought the
Olde Saratoga Brewing Company in Saratoga Springs, NY as a subsidiary of
Mendocino and began producing the Mendocino brews in NY for wider east coast
distribution. Because Mendocino is owned by a foreign parent they are not
considered craft by the Brewers Association. If it were considered craft in 2013
Mendocino would have been the 31st largest craft brewer in the US. On a trip out
west in 1989 I visited the brewpub and had my first Red Tail Ale and have had a
fondness for it ever since. It was very difficult to get here on the east coast, until they
began producing it in NY and I’ve had many since.
Notice the heavy California influence early. Well let’s move around.
In 1984 Jim Koch unearthed his great-great-great grandfather’s lager recipe in an
attic, which spurred him to begin the Boston Beer Company. He introduced Samuel
Adams Boston Lager the following year and it was voted Best Beer in America at the
GABF. With its wide geographic distribution it’s probably the most influential of what I
call “bridge” beers; a different more flavorful beer that someone was willing to put
aside their everyday beer and try. And because they liked it, they were willing and in
many cases eager to try others. But Jim was not just about his beer, he’s about craft
beer. In 2008 he created Brewing the American Dream program, a mentoring
program, which, as of 2015, has helped more than 4,000 entrepreneurs and with
their lending partner made almost 400 loans totaling $400M. Also in 2008 with a
worldwide hops shortage, Boston Beer sold 20,000 pounds to 108 craft breweries so
they could continue to brew. They again shared hops in 2012. And, as mentioned
earlier, without any fanfare he bought the rights to New Albion, because he
understood the significance of that microbrewery and then re-introduced it and gave
it back to Jack McAuliffe.
Jeff Lebesch of Fort Collins, CO tasted beers while traveling through Europe on a fat-
tired bike. He homebrewed and in 1991, he and his wife, Kim Jordan, decided to
open New Belgium Brewing Company. His intent was really to introduce Americans to
Belgian style beers, but it was their Fat Tire Amber Ale, that made the impact. I
remember trying Fat Tire on a vacation and much like Red Tail Ale; it was a beer you
weren’t going to forget and would like again, which living in NJ made it difficult until
recently when they finally entered the market.
So on this Independence Day 2016 I’d like to lift a glass and make special thanks to
Fritz, Jack, Ken and Paul, Michael and Norman, Jim and Jeff and Kim for their vision,
drive, hard work and resilience that allows me to try all the great tasting beers that I
do today. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list as you can Google “craft beer
pioneers” or read an article and find more and different names; just the ones I felt
like highlighting. And there are also many local pioneers all over the country who
began brewing in the 80’s and never rose to the heights of the above, but meant a
lot to the craft beer movement in their area.
So when you‘re out to have a few, every once in a while think about starting with a
Sam Adams Boston Lager or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Anchor Steam or New Albion
or Mendocino Red Tail Ale or New Belgium Fat Tire or your local pioneer beer and
appreciate it for what it is, not what it is not. Appreciate it for bringing taste back to
beer and for bridging the gap to today’s world of more styles and tastes than we
could have ever imagined a few decades ago.
Here’s to you “forefathers.”
Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.
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|Big G's Beer Beat
by Glenn DeLuca
|BeerNexus is proud to
welcome beer writer
Glenn "Big G" DeLuca
as a contributor to the
site. A widely traveled
beer hunter, Glenn is a
leading advocate for the
growth of craft beer.