"Made the Good Old Way"
MillerCoors allegedly stumbled on a brew recipe used before Prohibition, a minor
score they say because lots of beer recipes from that era disappeared once booze
was banned. The brew, Batch 19, was rolled out in select cities two years ago, but is
just now making it's way to most of the country. Many breweries have joined the
bandwagon. Lucky Bucket makes a popular pre-Prohibition lager, Brooklyn touts
their lager as being in a pre-Prohibition style, Anchor Steam is still made the same
way as it was long before 1920, and many others now equate their beers' quality with
that of the good old days.
Make no mistake about it - U.S. Prohibition changed U.S. brewing culture in several
ways. Primarily it destroyed many local breweries, clearing the way for the
development of a few large nationally-distributed brands selling lowest-common-
denominator beers. And some of the surviving brewers began using bootlegger tricks
like high-gravity brewing (making a beer with increased alcohol content that's easier
to ship elsewhere or to move around a brewery, then diluting it with water at a later
stage) that cut costs but had a negative impact on the flavor of the beers they made.
Did I hear anyone mention the King of Beers?
Before Prohibition there were more than 1,000 breweries and brewpubs in America
that served a wide range of beers, from English-style ales to German-style lagers—
whatever satisfied the neighborhood demand. By prohibiting the manufacture and
sale of alcoholic beverages, the U.S. government forced the closure of most
breweries, leaving many brewers to pursue other careers. A select number of
brewers were able to convert their breweries into manufacturing facilities for other
products. Adolph Coors started making malted milk, most of which was sold to the
Mars Candy Co., as well as scientific ceramics.
Brewers had to wait just short of 14 years before Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
By that time, the damage was done. This period had a crippling effect on American
brewing, including the traditions that were established between 1830 and 1920. The
brewing companies that survived Prohibition, like Coors and A-B, grew larger, filling
out the gap left by the small, regional breweries. In less than two decades the unique,
craft beers brewed in a variety of styles by small brewers were replaced by the
mainstream light lager of brewery giants.
What followed was no less than a beer blight, a period of 50 years when the average
beer bought in the United States was a bland pale lager that offended no one, but
inspired no one. However, it was this seemingly never-ending era of light lager that
incited our country’s grassroots home-brewing culture, resurrecting with it full-bodied
doppelbocks, strong stouts and above-average ales.
Of course the real question behind this pre-Prohibition movement is just what would a
beer from those day actually taste like. It might be impossible to fully know since
ingredients have changed tremendously since before Prohibition. The barley is
probably somewhat similar, but the hops are likely a lot different now than they were
a hundred years ago and yeast strains come and go. Almost all the hops were
grown locally as were the malt.
One thing most brewers agree on is that pre-Prohibition lagers can contain as much
as 25% corn in its grist. Yes, corn, that dreaded adjunct that is often misused by the
macro-breweries. However corn is a good thing. People started to brew with corn for
a reason, taste being the bottom line not profit which seems to explain its use today.
Corn brings a distinct sweetness which blunts the harshness of the American barley
and made for a clearer beer.
Pre-Prohibition lagers tended to be darker and maltier than their modern
counterparts; others were a bit more like Bohemian pilsners, since many early
'German' brewers often included immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic.
Yes, corn was cheaper and easier to obtain than barley, but before Prohibition, a full-
flavored, well-hopped drink was still the goal. And a reachable.
So it you come across a recreated throwback brew it might be worth trying. Don't
worry, the corn can't hurt you.