Southwest Brewing News June/July 2012 : Page 1
Ales and Lagers An Incomplete and Whimsical History By Michael Kelehar To Thee from Rahr & Sons Brewing By Bev Blackwood II M ILLUSTRATIONS BY HANS GRANHEIM ore taste or less taste? If you believe what you see on TV, these are the easy choices for the modern beer drinker. When did selecting a beer become so simple? Well, once upon a time there was but one choice: a fermented malted barley beverage that probably had its origins in ancient Mesopotamia, the so-called cradle of civilization. It is surmised that its discovery might have come quite by accident as discarded bread or porridge mixed with rainwater and airborne yeast to percolate the very first beer. As Charlie Papazian notes in his Holy Writ of Home Brewing, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing,” “Alcohol was not understood. Neither was yeast. But magically these beverages bubbled and made people feel, perhaps, godlike.” Perhaps this is why the “Hymn of Ninkasi,” the Sumerian goddess of beer, sings the praises of these archaic ales. (More on why these were "ales" later.) Whether it happened that way or even earlier as primitive Neolithic hunter-gatherers took a break from their non-stop hunting and gathering to actually See Ales and Lagers p. 4 Event Calendar ................................... 2 From the Editor ...................................3 Best of Show ......................................6 Queen of Quaff ....................................8 Directories & Maps .........................12-15 Arkansas .......................8 Oklahoma ......................9 N Mexico/SW TX .......... 10 Souther California ....... 16 San Diego .................... 17 Austin ......................... 18 S/C Texas .................... 19 Nevada ........................20 N Texas ....................... 21 C Arizona ....................22 N Arizona ....................23 S Arizona .....................23 T Owner Fritz Rahr Jr. (L) and one of his brewers, Austin Jones, outside the Rahr & Sons Brewing Company in Fort Worth, Texas. PHOTO BY BEV BLACKWOOD II. ingre ingredients to roughly 90% of the b breweries in the United State States. Even so, it took a whi while for the brewing bug to bite Fritz. “You know, it’s kind of funny,” he smiles, “I kin always kind of thought about alw it, but never really… had the cojones to do it, more th or less.” To call Rahr & Sons Brewing Company a “family business” barely scratches the surface. Fritz Rahr, the owner, is the fifth generation of a brewing family whose roots in the brewing industry extend back to 1847. “Growing up I went to beer conventions. From as little as I can remember, I was hobnobbing around with my parents, going to various states, various countries, various brewers’ and distillers’ operations seeing what was going on,” Rahr recalls. Which makes perfect sense if your family’s malting company supplies “ “Trained” t to Brew Coming out of college, brewing jobs were scarce and the pay wasn’t exactly a living wage, so Rahr ended up working on the railroad, so to speak. However, as the rail See Rahr p. 5
Ales And Lagers
An Incomplete and Whimsical History
More taste or less taste? If you believe what you see on TV, these are the easy choices for the modern beer drinker. When did selecting a beer become so simple? Well, once upon a time there was but one choice: a fermented malted barley beverage that probably had its origins in ancient Mesopotamia, the so-called cradle of civilization. It is surmised that its discovery might have come quite by accident as discarded bread or porridge mixed with rainwater and airborne yeast to percolate the very first beer. As Charlie Papazian notes in his Holy Writ of Home Brewing, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing,” “Alcohol was not understood. Neither was yeast. But magically these beverages bubbled and made people feel, perhaps, godlike.” Perhaps this is why the “Hymn of Ninkasi,” the Sumerian goddess of beer, sings the praises of these archaic ales. (More on why these were "ales" later.) Whether it happened that way or even earlier as primitive Neolithic hunter-gatherers took a break from their non-stop hunting and gathering to actually plant a seed, we do know that primordial beers were somewhat lacking in variety. (For your next Science Fair, try fermenting some bread with water and wild yeast and see where that gets you.)
Oh England, My Lionheart
“The English have the miraculous power of turning wine into water.”
- Oscar Wilde
Quick! I've rented Peabody and Sherman's Wayback Machine. Fast backward now, if you will, to the very dawn of enlightenment, as we know it. No, not the invention of the cell phone. I'm talking about that time in the dark and murky past when villages began to spring up and individuals accepted specific tasks based on their skills, referred to as crafts. What we call jobs now. And yes, this primarily happened in England, the birth mother of all that is right and proper. Despite Mr. Wilde's dour appraisal of the Brit's knack for putting a damper on all things enthusiastic, you can credit the English with progressing the miraculous power of turning water into beer. But, of course, someone had to plant that seed, so to speak. And so, in answer to Reg's question [Monty Python’s Life of Brian], "What have the Romans ever done for us?" Well, they brought brewing to the British Isles. Or maybe it was the Vikings, whose word "øl" eventually morphed into our “ale.” As I said, it's all dark and murky. Regardless, at some point in time, some fine English person accepted the mantle of village brewer or brewster. Back then, ales were unhopped, so our industrious brewer had to rely on a variety of available bittering agents to countermand the malt's cloying sweetness. These could have been spruce bark, juniper berries, ginger, sage, wormwood, fieldbalm or most anything found growing wild(e) outside one's front door. As one medieval rhyme boasted, “Oh we can make liquor to sweeten our lips, of pumpkins, of parsnips, of walnut-tree chips.” This was the age of experimentation, a heady time for the humble ale. And to preside over this burgeoning enterprise, the official position of Ale-Conner was established to inspect and judge the quality of newly brewed ales.
Clad in clean leather breeches, the Ale-Conner poured a fair sampling of the new brew upon a handy wooden bench, then proceeded to sit in the puddle for some 30 minutes. If the Conner was able to rise from the bench without resistance, the brew was deemed fit for consumption. If you think I'm making this up, I'll have you know that William Shakespeare's father served as the honorable Ale-Conner in Stratford-Upon- Avon in 1557. So there! The history of brewing in England is as rich as the history of the world itself. And yet, this is but one part of the tale.
The Hills Are Alive
While a few unfortunate souls were gluing their butts to the local town seats in England, across the pond, Bavarian monks had begun cultivating the hop plant, humulus lupulus. It is not known for sure if this was in any way related to the brewing of beer. However, I will refer you to this famous quote of unknown origin, “He who drinks beer sleeps well. He who sleeps well cannot sin. He who does not sin goes to heaven. Amen.” By the 18th century, hops had become the most popular spice for beer in the “civilized” world. So how do you improve upon a nice hoppy English ale? You clean it up. And that's what the Germans did when they commercialized the lagering process in the mid-1800s. Without going into great detail, lagers and ales employ different strains of yeast, which impart the distinctive taste attributes of each. Ale yeast is a top feeder and likes warm temperature to reproduce. Lager yeast is a bottom feeder. In addition, lagers (from the German “lagern,” to store) are fermented at colder temperatures for longer periods of time. This combination results in the unique crisp and clean characteristics peculiar to lager beers. Uh, honey, I'm off to the Bavarian Alps for the next eight weeks to lager some beer. If only.
Back Home Again
And so, here we are. We've got ales. And we've got lagers. And we've got choices beyond “more taste or less.” Import or domestic? Light or dark? High or low ABV? Lager or ale? Hello! Now do you really think one in 10 American beer consumers can distinguish a lager from an ale? “Doubtful,” says G.W., a bartender at Stillwater, Oklahoma’s world-famous Eskimo Joe's. “Being a college town," he adds, “domestics rule. Whatever's cheap. Whatever's free.” Therein lies the problem.
So many mass-produced American beers have completely lost any hint of personality or originality. Once upon a time, America boasted well over 1,000 breweries, most producing a variation on the German-style pale lager. Prohibition shuttered all but the most inventive, or most conniving. Most of what remained, post-Prohibition, evolved into the large commercial breweries we know today, the corporate brewers. As Andy Warhol mused, “I've decided something: Commercial things really do stink. As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market, it really stinks.” Thankfully, the craft brew revolution has brought us full circle. Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head brews a replica of that first ancient ale. Jim Koch at Sam Adams concocts beers similar to those enjoyed by our founding fathers. And local breweries across our great nation brew again with spruce berries, mace and lavender.
"It is hereby recorded for the information of strangers and posterity that 17,000 Assembled in this Green on the 4th of July 1788 to celebrate the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, and that they departed at an early hour without intoxication or a single quarrel. They drank nothing but Beer and Cyder. Learn Reader to prize these invaluable liquors and to consider them as the companions of those virtues which can alone render our country free and reputable."
Philadelphia, July 23d, 1788
Let freedom ring!
Read the full article at http://swbnonline.brewingnews.com/article/Ales+And+Lagers/1087735/114979/article.html.
To Thee From Rahr & Sons Brewing
Bev Blackwood II
To call Rahr & Sons Brewing Company a “family business” barely scratches the surface. Fritz Rahr, the owner, is the fifth generation of a brewing family whose roots in the brewing industry extend back to 1847. “Growing up I went to beer conventions. From as little as I can remember, I was hobnobbing around with my parents, going to various states, various countries, various brewers’ and distillers’ operations seeing what was going on,” Rahr recalls. Which makes perfect sense if your family’s malting company supplies ingredients to roughly 90% of the breweries in the United States. Even so, it took a while for the brewing bug to bite Fritz. “You know, it’s kind of funny,” he smiles, “I always kind of thought about it, but never really… had the cojones to do it, more or less.”
“Trained” to Brew
Coming out of college, brewing jobs were scarce and the pay wasn’t exactly a living wage, so Rahr ended up working on the railroad, so to speak. However, as the rail industry went through changes, it wore on him. “It was a time of confusion and a time of exceptionally poor service on the railroads,” recalls Rahr. “It was a moral and ethical thing for me to continually have to lie to my customers saying things were going to get better.” Eventually, he had had enough of the corporate life, but was faced with the dilemma of what to do next. His wife Erin had a pretty good idea. “She slipped me a book one day about how to set up your own brewery,” and Rahr & Sons Brewing Company was born. Rahr’s parents weren’t quite as enthused with the idea. “They thought I had lost my freaking mind,” he grins.
That was in the summer of 2003 and by the end of the year, they had their financing lined up. “It all happened so fast,” remembers Rahr. “In a matter of six to seven months, we went from nothing to selling beer.” They originally started with Texas Red and Blonde Lager, followed in the fall by the Ugly Pug, a schwarzbier. The decision to initially go with an all lager lineup is a family thing as well. “I’m very much a traditionalist at heart. I always considered myself to come from a very strong German background and German [style] lagers are the beers that I enjoyed growing up and drinking,” Rahr informs. Despite having both a family “name” and great brewing tradition behind them, the early years were hard. “There have been times where I didn’t even know if I was going to make a mortgage payment, be able to buy food, be able to make payroll,” he states somberly. “There was more than one occasion that we were going to close the brewery.” Apparently Fort Worth hadn’t quite embraced their local craft brewery just yet. “It was still very much a Bud, Miller, Coors environment. More often than not nobody knew we even existed,” he adds.
Collapse Aids Support
Then, on February 12,, 2010, at about 5:30 a.m. it all came crashing down. Literally. “It was the worst day of my life,” Rahr remembers. “It was just devastating.” A late spring snowstorm collapsed the roof of the warehouse, damaging tanks and equipment, and effectively shutting down the brewery. Oddly enough, it was the just the break the brewery needed, as they quickly realized. “We got a real opportunity to make the changes that we always wanted to make,” relates Rahr. “We were able to take a step back, take a look at how we were brewing beer, how we were packaging beer, how we were marketing the beer and how we were selling the beer.” During the shutdown, they effectively doubled their brewhouse capacity, improved their bottling operations and created a unified brand image for their beers… and got a new roof. They even managed to have a little fun with it, creating a series of “bored brewer” YouTube videos to keep their loyal fans engaged while repairs were underway. “The worst day of our lives really turned out to be the best day for the brewery,” he observes. “The outpouring of support [after the collapse] was very reassuring that what we were doing, trying to rebuild as quickly as we can and get back out there, was the right thing.”
Apparently, they made the right choice, as sales boomed. “Before the roof came down, we were a brewery of 3,600, 4,000 barrels. When the brewery came back on-line, that first full year we did 4,500, 4,600barrels,” Rahr says. “Then last year, we did just under 11,000 barrels.” Their new equipment also allowed them to expand their offerings, as they introduced their To Thee series of seasonals in 22-ounce bottles, which appropriately enough, began with Snowmageddon, an imperial stout that commemorated the roof collapse. The name of the series derives from a book that Fritz’s grandfather had commissioned in 1947 for the centennial of the Rahr family business.
Tapping the Family
That family history appears poised to carry forward. Rahr’s two sons spend a lot of time at the brewery and, like Fritz, have grown up in the beer culture. “When they were little, they slept on 55-pound bags of grain,” he smiles. “Today these kids are 6’1”, 6’2”, bigger than me and know more about beer at this age than most grown men know about beer.” Fort Worth has also become “family” as well, as evidenced by the broad range of visitors to the Wednesday and Saturday tours. “When people come into the brewery, we really wanted them to have a feeling of ownership, feel like they’re part of the family.”
Rahr extends that same sense of family to the employees who endured through the rebuilding and the volunteers who helped out after the collapse. “The people that work here put in long hours for brewery pay,” he remarks, “but we do it because we love it.”
While Rahr looks to the future, the brewery’s ties to the past keep popping up in odd places, like his mother appearing on the Blonde Lager label. “She was a smokin’ hot blonde, back in the day!” he grins. She was Miss Minnesota 1952 and had done some modeling, so Rahr asked whether he could use one of those images on the label and she reluctantly agreed. “What’s fun is that whenever they [Fritz’s parents] come to town and they come to one of the tours, people will find out that’s her… and she’s signing autographs for the entire tour.” Rahr’s father was subsequently featured on their oktoberfest label.
Rahr & Sons Brewing Company takes pride in being a family business - one with ties to a brewing tradition that stretches back to Fritz Rahr’s great-great grandfather, William Mathias Rahr, who came from Germany to start a new life in America. With the sixth generation of the Rahr family already steeped in the family business and sales that are raising the roof, Fritz has every right to feel lucky. “I think if a guy had to pick two careers to have, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to play with trains and now I get to play with beer.”
Rahr & Sons Brewing Company
701 Galveston AvenueFort Worth, TX 76104817-810-9266
Rahr and Sons Brewing Company is located on the south side of downtown Fort Worth, Texas (also known as the Near Southside community). They offer free tours twice a week. Wednesday evening tours start at 5 p.m. and last until 7:30 p.m. Saturday tours start at 1 p.m. and last until 3 p.m. The brewery is not climate-controlled, so dress accordingly.
The key to finding the brewery is I-35 West. From either direction (north or south) you’ll take the US 287/Rosedale Street exit and head west. The first major intersection you reach should be South Main Street. Turn north. Look for West Leuda Street, which should be the third left. The brewery is one block off of South Main on the right hand side of the street.