Draft Dodgers

For DIY brewers, Prohibition lasted until 1978. But once unleashed, they revolutionized the industry.

For connoisseurs of Budweiser, the 1970s were a pale golden age. In every supermarket across the land, the King of Beers maintained its status as the grocery world’s most superfluous monarch, reigning over just a handful of domestic taste-alikes and one or two upstart imports. The American public had decided it liked its beer cheap, bland, and less filling, and the industry—which, after decades of consolidation, consisted of a mere 44 breweries in 1979—was happy to oblige. Consumers with a thirst for something tastier, or at least different, had few options. Things were so bad, in fact, that Coors, distributed in just 11 Western states, was considered such a rare delicacy in other parts of the country that bootlegged cases went for three times their retail price in New Jersey and Tennessee. Was it any wonder that the nation was feeling weak and watered down?

Then Jimmy Carter took pity on our wretched souls. In 1978 he signed Senate Amendment 3534, a portion of which gave each household permission to produce up to 200 gallons of tax-exempt beer each year.

Three decades later, the U.S. boasts 1,463 breweries, including 975 brewpubs. Bud Light and its analogs still dominate the market, but even your corner market may have at least a few selections to tempt the palate of Joe Microbrew: summer ales, double bocks, black lagers, maybe even a honey orange wheat ale. If you’re looking for a textbook example of how government can stifle innovation and discourage productive activity, even when operating in Regulatory Lite mode, the story of home brewing in America should hit the spot.

In colonial times, home-brew was as much a part of American life as burning witches or shooting Redcoats. George Washington had a brew house in his backyard. Thomas Jefferson gave beer-making seminars to friends at Monticello. By 1872, however, there were 3,421 commercial breweries in America, or roughly 17 times as many per capita as there are now, and home brewing was a less necessary endeavor.

Prohibition changed that. For the first time, federal lawmakers made home brewing a crime, carrying potential penalties of one year in prison or a $1,000 fine. Yet apparently chronic sobriety was an even worse fate. With commercial beer no longer available, thousands of shops began carrying the ingredients and equipment that small-scale brewing required. By 1929 thirsty scofflaws were producing approximately 700 million gallons of home-brewed beer per year.

After Prohibition ended, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935 laid out a new set of liquor laws. Home winemaking for family use was granted a tax exemption; home brewing was not. If you were making any amount of beer, you had to obtain a permit and comply with a long list of regulations. And while federal authorities showed little interest in actually cracking down on such indiscretions, states had liquor laws too, and they could be more aggressive. Home brewers mostly attracted police attention if they tried to sell their stock, but in some areas even a small amount of homemade beer destined for personal consumption could land you in hot water. In 1962, for example, an unlucky couple in Middlesboro, Kentucky, was caught with three gallons of home-brew and charged with “illegal possession of alcoholic beverage” and with “living in adultery.”

Because of the potential legal complications, and because home brewing generally resulted in a product that was far inferior to what commercial breweries were turning out in the 1940s and ’50s, it was an unpopular and moribund art during these years. But as the number of commercial breweries began to decline, a portion of the beer-drinking market began to grow disenchanted with those long supermarket aisles filled with nothing but Bud. Drinkers began to envision a new role for home-brew: Instead of functioning as a cheap do-it-yourself alternative to well-made commercial beers, why couldn’t it function as a well-made do-it-yourself alternative to cheap commercial beers?

In places with a somewhat more permissive culture than Middlesboro, Kentucky, a semi-public home-brew movement began to emerge. The Oregon author Fred Eckhardt was spreading the gospel via his influential 1969 book A Treatise on Lager Beers. Charlie Papazian was teaching home-brew classes to aspiring beer makers in Colorado. Clubs with names like the San Andreas Malts were meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area to share tricks of the trade and taste each other’s brews.

But home brewing could still get you five years in prison or a $10,000 fine. When pressed to articulate the feds’ position on the practice, Treasury officials were not shy about reminding the public of the possible penalties. Not surprisingly, their attitude tended to have a chilling effect on the developing home-brew community. “If you looked in the yellow pages back in those days, you’d see wine-making supplies but you’d never see beer-making supplies,” Papazian remembers. “The shops didn’t want to advertise that part of their business.” Byron Burch, another early home brewer, says, “We weren’t conceding that it was illegal, but we recognized that the government felt it was, and nobody wanted to be the test case.”

For decades, the Treasury Department maintained that unregulated home brewing could not be permitted because it might provide cover to moonshiners, since the mash that remains after brewing beer can be distilled into liquor. In 1978, however, a supplier of beer-making equipment in Rochester, New York, asked his congressman, Barber Conable (R–N.Y.), to sponsor a bill that would extend the home winemakers’ exemption to DIY beer makers.

According to James Fleming, author of a 2004 biography of Conable called Window on Congress, the congressman had no great interest in home brewing. He wasn’t even a beer drinker. In 2002, when two reporters contacted Conable to discuss his role in helping jump-start the “American beer renaissance,” he didn’t even recall the bill. But when he introduced it to his colleagues in 1978 Conable apparently felt more passionately, insisting that independent Americans shouldn’t have to “rely on the beer barons” for their daily libations. According to an Associated Press article written at the time, the bill “sailed through the House on a voice vote with no audible objection.”

Under the guidance of Sen. Alan Cranston (D–Calif.), it fared much the same in the Senate. Then Carter signed it into law, and just like that, after 43 years of government inertia, indifference, and undue concern about the ways home brewers might abuse the privilege of mixing hops and malt extract in their unsupervised kitchens, home brewing was suddenly legal again.

At least on the federal level. While many states continued to maintain laws against the practice, enough followed the federal government’s lead to help dramatically accelerate home brewing’s growth. Ultimately, home brewing began to influence the beer industry at large.

“I’d say over 90 percent of small brewers I talk to today have roots in home brewing,” says Papazian, who now serves as president of the Brewers Association, a trade group. “The creativity and innovation they’ve brought to the business has been amazing. The American wheat beers. The fruit beers, the honey beers, the chocolate beers. They were all homebrews first.” Anyone whose thirst for finely crafted beer exceeds their thirst for finely crafted beer commercials should be grateful.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato is a writer in San Francisco.

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  • BakedPenguin||

    Good article. Now if only the feds would get smart and legalize home distillation, as New Zealand did in 1996.

  • ||

    Great article....

    I can only imagine that 20th century prohibitionist foretold the end of the universe should people be allowed to brew at home. "Oh the humanity, a brewery in every house," is a line they actually used.

    I was stationed in West Germany from 1987 to 1990. I learned what real beer was supposed to taste like. Germans, and any beer connoisseur, laugh at any piss-water Budweiser product. And for good reason, that shit sucks.

    I like Corona, Tecate, and Pacifico. Americans can't make beer or cars worth a shit.

  • deluded1||

    Corona, Tecate, Pacifico? bleah.

    Um, Victory, Troegs, Dogfishhead, Avery, Stone, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, Founders, Magic Hat, Ommegang, and many, many more.

    The american beer industry is the best in the world currently This is thanks in a large part to the homebrewers, and craft brewers they spawned.

    You just basically named three mediocre import light lagers. Go find a beer bar and expand your horizon, you won't be disappointed.

  • ||

    I like Corona, Tecate, and Pacifico. Americans can't make beer or cars worth a shit.

    Ah, yeah, Corona. Great "beer" you got there fella.

    You want good US beer, try something from Anchor Steam. I'm sure that my fellow commenters can suggest a bunch more.

  • ||

    Great article indeed. I wonder if there is a significant cross section between libertarians and homebrewers? Individualists, perfectionists, experimenters...

  • ||

    Brooklyn Brewery Local 1 Ale. Dogfish Head IPAs make me swoon. I'm excited for my trip to Portland later this year so I can finally try some Fat Tire. I hear great things about it, but it cannot be had east of the Mississippi.

  • ||

    I like Corona, Tecate, and Pacifico. Americans can't make beer or cars worth a shit.

    Fucking Mexican beer? Are you serious?

    Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA is the greatest beer on the planet. Their Celebration Ale comes a close second.

  • ||

    Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA is the greatest beer on the planet. Their Celebration Ale comes a close second.

    Their regular pale ale is on draft throughout much of London now, and some of their beers (incl. the celebration) are available in suburban Danish supermarkets. That's the kind of globalisation anyone should be able to get behind.

  • ||

    MadBiker, Fat Tire is all it's cracked up to be. I haven't had it since I left CO, but it's one of the beers that got me into homebrewing. I haven't been terribly impressed with Brooklyn Brewery's stuff - their lager is over hopped, and the toasted lager tastes burn't to me - never had the Local 1. IPA's are usually overdone with the hops these days - they put way to much in the boil, when they should be tossing it in for 30 seconds at the end or dry hopping.

  • ||

    correction - the toasted lager is Blue Points bastard child - not Brooklyn Brewery - they just remind me of each other...

  • deluded1||

    Domo, try this year's Stoudt's IPA for a delightful hop bomb sans bitterness - I believe it's fully late hopped.

    MadBiker - Make sure you stop by the Rogue Brewpub & Distillery when you're out there. That's a must.

  • Cow eying greener grass across||

    Ever look at pics of partying upscale hipsters in foreign countries? The tables are often covered with American Budweiser bottles/cans.

    Corporate industrial American brew rules!

  • ||

    deluded1 - thanks for the tip, I shall do precisely that.

  • Hastur77||

    Gotta toss a reccomendation for Three Floyd's in here as well. Pride and Joy, Dark Lord, Fantabulous Resplendence and Robert the Bruce are all great beers.

  • ||

    Troy, It isn't true most American beers are pisswater. Bud actually has one real beer, American Ale, that isn't the pisswater most Americans drink. There are way more good American beers than pisswater beers, but they are not the bulk of American beer sales. Compare the dozens of weak beers (Coor, Miller, Bud, strohs, Dog Style, etc) to the hundreds of good Ales (that are not widely distributed...) and ...did I have a point? Guess not.

    It's funny that the Germans make fun of our "beer", because our beer got that way while we were kicking the shit out of them during World War 2. American beers were modified to the taste of the women who were working in our factories building the bombs our men were fucking Germany up with. War's hell!

  • ||

    Anybody know of a pilsner that approximates the taste of real czech stuff out of the tap? I have tried all the export versions I can find, and am always dissappointed. Either they export higher alcohol versions, or the bars serve it too cold or maybe don't clean the lines often enough. I think the exports might be a bit to bright too...

    Staropramen - mmmm...

  • ||

    I friend who works in the US liquor industry who claims that much of the dominance of Budweiser post prohibition was due to the following:

    Anheuser-Busch maintained their distribution networks and mothballed many plants during the prohibition era, enabling them to dominate the subsequent market by controlling distribution and having a lead over competitors in mass production.

    It sounds very plausible - is this the accepted history of the beer market, or an entertaining apocryphal tale?

  • ||

    dbcooper,

    I read that they converted a lot of their capacity to malt concentrate used for home bread baking. Smaller brewers couldn't make it on the much smaller margins and most closed up - that was supposed to be the lead they had when prohibition ended. I'm not an expert though - just something I heard.

  • Cabeza De Vaca||

    "I like Corona, Tecate, and Pacifico."

    You should try Modelo Negra that's the best Mexican beer IMO.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Wasn't Anheiser just purchased by the parent company of Stella Artois (good beer, btw)? Wouldn't it be Belgian piss water, then?

  • ||

    Domo, that sounds familiar, and again plausible. My buddy, who was working in sales and distribution at the time, stressed the distribution angle much more though - his idea was that they could lock out many competitors by refusing access to distribution. I imagine that it was the most prominent feature of their advantage, which required the production scale etc to achieve.

  • Timeloose||

    Nothing beats Troges Nugget Nectar. One of the hoppiest beers but with a smooth malt ballance.

  • deluded1||

    Domo - Have you tried stoudt's pilsner or victory prima pils or braumeister pils series? I think the braumeister pils sereies may only be at the brewpub though. Both the stoudt's and victories brewmasters were trained in Europe, so they tend to stay pretty traditional

  • ||

    You just basically named three mediocre import light lagers. Go find a beer bar and expand your horizon, you won't be disappointed.

    yeah, Mexican beer. Their women are hot, too.

    Sigh....beer snobs.... almost as bad a rock and roll snobs with some obsure Captain Beefheart reference.

    I've drank beer with recipes older than this fucking country. I've drank Michelbrau from Babebenhausen, Darmstadt had its own brews, Aschafenburg, Frankfurt, Sachsehausen. Every town seemed to have thier own brand and I tried them all. The best beer I have had was brewed in the Black Forest. I've drank a lot of Canadian Pale ales and I would put them on the list of beer worthy of my digestion. I have drank beer from england. I drank local beers while in France, Holland (I toured the brewery several times beacause the beer was free and I was spending all my money on hash), Lischetnstein, Belguim, and probably and some other that I can't remember.

    So please spare me your faux worldliness by mentioning some obscure backwater shithole pisswater.

  • ||

    D'oh! That was the Heiniken brewery that I toured.

  • ||

    deluded1 - you're big on the Stoudts, huh? Never had it - but I will... Can you get it in the north east?

  • ||

    Oh - and no mention of top quality pale lagers would be complete without mentioning the Japanese versions - Sapporo from the tap is amazing, though their exports seem to have some of the same issues that czech exports do. Wierd...

  • ||

    Oh - and no mention of top quality pale lagers would be complete without mentioning the Japanese versions - Sapporo from the tap is amazing, though their exports seem to have some of the same issues that czech exports do. Wierd...

    Aren't many of them brewed in Canada? Possibly with a different strain of yeast and a bit light on the hops.

  • ||

    dbcooper - a bit of googling later - it seems the North American market is served by canadian breweries. The stuff I loved, I drank in tokyo, and that's brewed on Hokkaido. big difference - I never knew I had been tricked into drinking rebranded Molson! Bastards!

  • robc||

    Troy,

    Germans, and any beer connoisseur, laugh at any piss-water Budweiser product

    If only the former were true. (the latter is). Unfortunately, Bud is growing all over Europe, including Germany. Insane but true.

    The young 'uns like themselves some mildly flavored water.

  • robc||

    Epi,

    As great as Sierra Nevada is, they arent in the best beers in the world competition.

    In no particular order:
    Bell's 2-hearted
    Fuller's ESB
    Sam Smith's Nut Brown
    Chimay Grande Reserve
    Uerige Doppelsticke
    Weinhenstephaner Hefeweissbier (and Dunkel)

    and a few more

    SN Celebration makes the 2nd tier, which is still damn good.

    Main reason that 2-hearted beats out SN is that centennial >>>> cascade.

  • deluded1||

    troy,

    I've never understood the draw of Captain Beefheart, myself.

    That said, congratulations on enjoying a few brews.

    I've enjoyed a number of the same beers you have on several of my german and belgium beer trips. As well as my business trips to England and the Netherlands. They are all amazingly well crafted brews created by truly dedicated brewmasters. There is no doubt that the old world has gotten their process down to a perfect art.

    However, the issue at hand was the innovation of American craft brewers. These you dismissed with reference to three mediocre brews of a single style. These three are not "bad" beers at all. Obviously, or they wouldn't sell so well. However, your dismissal of thousands of american beers with this sample size is rather ludicrous.

    My suggestion was simply that if you were to try an american beer bar, you would be pleasantly suprised, not only by the quality, but by the innovation in style. Simply put, if you think that these beers are "obscure backwater shithole pisswater" you would find yourself mistaken. Especially since they consistently win awards at foreign beer fests which also contain the brew's you mentioned, and their distribution and sales (with the exception of the Munich 6) are as great or greater than those you've mentioned. If anything, the ones you mentioned would be more likely to be the "obscure backwater" but we both know they aren't pisswater.

    In addition, it's great brewer's that make great beers, not recipes. So I don't give a damn how old something is, it can still taste like shit.

    Prost!

  • robc||

    domo,

    Fat Tire is just so...so...what's the word...pedestrian (pun intended). It makes the money so they can actually make good beers in the brewery. It just doesnt have the "character" of the true Belgians. I will take anything from Ommegang or Unibroue before Fat Tire.

  • robc||

    Hastur77,

    Dont forget Alpha King or Gumballhead. Those of us within the 3Floyds distribution range should sing praises (Im technically not, but crossing the river is easy).

  • deluded1||

    Domo-

    I remember seeing you in the Hoboken thread, so I'm trying to suggest north east beers. Stoudt's is an older PA brewery (second oldest I believe) in Adamstown (near Lancaster) and should be readily available in your area. If not, I know it's available in the Philly region, if you happen to be nearby. They also have a new dry hopped Helle's Lager which is exceptional. They are usually rather traditional, so don't tend to hit the beer snob radar as such, which is a shame. They make solid offerings.

  • ||

    Bastards eh, domo. From what I have heard they use the same yeast too, so they can brew it in the same equipment/plant without risk of contaminating their own batches.

  • robc||

    Argh...realized I left Cantillon Gueuze off my beer list above...literally the foulest smelling substance I have intentionally put in my mouth, but its so, so tasty. Damn. How can something that smells like horse blanket and wet sheep and cat urine, with a side of vomit, taste so damn good?

    Oh, and more on topic, have a little bit of a scotch ale left in a keg, a schwarzbier lagering in my fridge and need to make an ESB - probably this weekend.

  • robc||

    domo,

    Prima Pils from Victory?

    Not a big Pilsner drinker but it would be my best guess.

  • robc||

    Penguin,

    Bud is now Brazilo-Belgian piss water. Inbev was a conglomerate of a big Belgian brewer and a big Brazilian brewer.

  • ||

    Cantillon Gueuze

    Do their "mixed cultures" contain lactic acid bacteria? They make all kinds of interesting aromatic chemicals from amino acid metabolism etc ...

  • robc||

    domo,

    I never knew I had been tricked into drinking rebranded Molson! Bastards!

    I would recommend to stop drinking pale lagers (not that there arent some damn good ones).

  • deluded1||

    Sunshine Pils from Troegs is delicious as well.

    Have Vienna Lager and Helles Lager in the kegs, a hazlenut vanilla porter cold conditioning, and a dubbel ready to move to secondary so I can put my quadrupel in there this weekend. I plan on aging that on oak with a Port wine from a local winery.

    Hrmm, I'm getting thirsty.

  • robc||

    dbcooper,

    Their cultures contain whatever happens to float into the beer from the surrounding contryside. They replaced the old nasty slats in the roof a few years back and the taste changed so dramatically that they put the old ones back up. Also, the bugs living in the wood in their casks have a huge affect on the flavor profile. Plus the cats roaming in the attack around the open cooling vessels.

  • robc||

    I made a Helles once that a friend said "This tastes just like Molson". She meant it as a compliment, I took it as an insult. :)

    At the time Molson was her favorite beer. I have since turned her into a hophead. Thats what you get for insulting my beers. :)

  • robc||

    s/attack/attic/

    Wow, thats a bad typo.

  • ||

    My suggestion was simply that if you were to try an american beer bar, you would be pleasantly suprised, not only by the quality, but by the innovation in style. Simply put, if you think that these beers are "obscure backwater shithole pisswater" you would find yourself mistaken. Especially since they consistently win awards at foreign beer fests which also contain the brew's you mentioned, and their distribution and sales (with the exception of the Munich 6) are as great or greater than those you've mentioned. If anything, the ones you mentioned would be more likely to be the "obscure backwater" but we both know they aren't pisswater.

    Point taken. And to be honest, I am sure there are some American brews that I would like.

    But the idea of a best beer contest seems just as stupid as a best rock and roll or a best art contest. Someone is going to argue the Metalica is better than Pink Floyd. Some one is going to argue that Dali is better than Rembrandt. I don't see how you can have a "best" contest on an issue that is EXCEPTIONALLY as subjective as taste. It is like arguing chocolate is better than vanilla. The whole concept doesn't make sense. There are actually people that prefer budweiser. Being a snob myself, I'd question thier intelligence but those people do exist. How can you argue that what they prefer is wrong?

    But the bottom line is that we are all better of having more choices as Beato suggests from the freedom of home brewers to do what they do.

  • ||

    robc,

    Fat Tire was what got me into craft brewing - I had much better since, but it remains close to my heart for sentimental reasons - as well as being one of the only bottle conditioned mass market brews you can get. Pedestrian indeed! I abandoned the light lager as a hopeless cause at an early age, and frankly I seldom drink it for lack of a reliable brand. Doesn't mean I can't hope though - the style has such potential, but it's damn difficult to pull off, more than I can manage with homebrew - so I'm left searching...

    Thanks for the tips deluded1, I will grab check out my local provisioner. I prefer traditional styles to the more innovative offerings. I've had some good specialty beers, but I generally can only drink one. The only thing with fruit I'll buy these days is Liefmans Kreik.

    dbcooper - if what you say about the yeast is true, that's probably the main source of the taste difference. What a travesty.

  • ||

    Oh, oh, oh, and some backwater pisswater that I like. There is this brewery in Sedona, Arizona. I don't remember the name... They have this awesome sampler of 5 different brews. You sit in the same room as the big stainless steel tanks or whatever the fuck they are.

    So you can get tanked then walk outside to this awesome scenery. A win-win scenario.

  • deluded1||

    bjcp.org

    That's how we attempt to judge beers on something as subjective as taste. You basically have to define what the style is, then see how well a particular beer can fall within that style. This requires a good recipe, but also consistency and process knowledge.
    But you're correct, it's never accurate, and people with better beer lose because they're not in "style guidelines". That's why there are usually "best in show" awards as well.

  • ||

    How can you argue that what they prefer is wrong?

    Cuz it's more fun than working?

  • deluded1||

    Oak Creek Brewery and Grill. I hit it up when I was going to the grand canyon.

    Beer + Outdoors = win

  • Reinmoose||

    I will take anything from Ommegang or Unibroue before Fat Tire

    What a great resource you all are.

    Now, while I greatly enjoy myself an Ommegang Abbey Ale (or Three Philosophers *swoons*), I am looking to branch out. I like myself some dark beers because I don't respond well (gastricly) to IPAs. So...
    Who has suggestions?

    What I've been drinking lately:
    Kona Brewing Company Longboard Lager
    Kona Brewing Company Pipeline Porter (delicious)
    Ommegang Abbey Ale
    Red Hook Spring Ale

  • ||

    I like Corona, Tecate

    Corona? And you say Budweiser tastes like piss...

    (Pacifico is good stuff)

  • ||

    My favorite backwater shithole brewery: Las Gatos brewery. Ok, hardly a shithole, but they had the best chocolate stout I've ever had - and I've had 'em all over the world...

  • ||

    Great article. I am a home brewer and was in my 20's for the great micro brew explosion back in the 80's.

    This is the kind of article that really got my libertarian blood flowing a couple years ago. But I don't see micro-brews saving civilization from the eminent collapse.

    However, it is a great model for home grown pot. Legalizing pot would go a long way towards lessening the coming financial disaster.

  • ||

    So please spare me your faux worldliness by mentioning some obscure backwater shithole pisswater.

    Okay. After all, I am always willing to defer to somebody who uses the construction "I've drank" on matters of worldliness.

  • ||

    Ah, it is that Gueuze then. Maybe some lactic acid bacteria turning tryptophan into skatole. :)

  • deluded1||

    If you're looking for American Belgium style - New Belgium brewing company usually has good offerings. I strongly stand behind anything Victory offers. Rogue is excellent as well.
    Russian River
    Voodoo
    Bell's
    Alesmith
    Surly
    Great Divide
    Southern Tier
    Bear Republic (their stout is amazing)
    North Coast

    To name a few

  • robc||

    dbcooper,

    Maybe some lactic acid bacteria turning tryptophan into skatole.

    If you say so, my chemistry is all over 20 years old now.

    I just no it smells gawdawful and is wonderful (and oh so sour) tasting. So of the hardcore fruited lambics (not Lindemans) are also very good, but I prefer my nasty, bacteria infested beers straight.

    I like my lambics like I like my women: sour and infected?

  • ||

    robc, I have no idea what goes on in their cultures, but if there are lots of weird, wacky, and sour flavours, they might come from lactic acid bacteria (which function at the lower pH's that you get in yeast cultures) as you have in wine making. Skatole is a prominent odour of faeces and sometimes is produced during wine making - what the experts are talking about when they say it has "a whiff of shit about it." :)

  • ||

    rob, if you haven't tried the Torpedo Extra IPA, give it a shot. It's fucking excellent. I will admit that I am a total IPA and hops fanatic, though.

  • ||

    Anyone who thinks American micro brews are anywhere close to what they make in Belguim, Germany and Czech Republic is dellusional or hasn't been there. You have to go there. Beer doesn't travel well. If a German beer is a 6 in the US it is a 10 over there. Every German city has its own local brewry. Average beers in Germany that don't even get exported like say Henniger or Swabenbau is better than any micro brew. Don't even think about the good stuff like you can get in the real beer halls in Muinich. That stuff is just devine. You can drink it by the gallon and it doesn't make you sick or give you an hangover. I won't drink American beer with food. It is too skunky. Over there, it goes with anything.

    I am not sure if it is the water, the beer puirity laws, the air or what. But even the best well intentioned American hippie micro brewer can't touch what they do over there. That is my beer snob rant for the day.

  • robc||

    dbcooper,

    Oh, they definately have the lactic acid bacteria, that is one of the standard additions when people try to make lambics (technically lambic-style, there is only one valley where you can make lambics) elsewhere. The yeast/bacteria cocktails that are used to try to immitate it is pretty amusing. I have heard of people throwing old kitchen sponges in with the beer, figuring there has to be some good nasties in it to help out.

    I prefer to leave the sour beers to the professionals.

  • robc||

    Epi,

    Had the Torpedo a few weeks ago. It didnt really wow me. But, I have gone away from the whole extreme hops thing the last few years.

    Interestingly, as much as I like a good IPA, I cant brew one worth shit. I kick ass at malt-based styles but suck at the hoppy styles. Mostly a water chemistry issue and I never bother to burtonize my water. Also, I have a problem with "chico" yeast (another reason I dont care for SN beers). Way too neutral flavored - I prefer an influence from my yeast. Really, for a good hoppy PA/IPA, you probably cant beat a neutral yeast however.

  • ||

    I made a Helles once that a friend said "This tastes just like Molson". She meant it as a compliment, I took it as an insult. :)

    I should keep a notebook of the bizarre complements I get for my beer. Our second child was born last week, and to celebrate we popped a 750-mL bottle of Dunkelweizen I brewed for the occasion. Our doula commented that it was like a cross between Fat Tire and Guinness. Obviously people who aren't used to drinking craft beer are going to try and pigeonhole the flavors into the beers they know, so I certainly don't take offense or think they're stupid. They just have more drinking to do!

    Oh, and domo, I'd recommend checking out Lagunitas Czech Pils. It's been eight years since I visited Prague, so I can't guarantee it's exactly the same, but it's damn tasty.

  • ||

    I don't get the whole IPA craze. IPA is shitty beer that was made that way to survive the trip to India. That is why they added all of the hops and made it so damn bitter. To me drinking IPA by choice is like eating straight salted fish by choice. Beer is not meant to have that many hops in it. I just don't get the American pallet where people want beer to be bitter and have an overage of one in ingredient.

  • deluded1||

    John,

    I respectfully disagree. A large number of successful american brewers are trained in Germany or are from Germany originally. This is especially true for the older brewers since brewing schools and majors are relatively new in the US. The processes for our micro brews (or craft brews) are modeled after the highly efficient german breweries, for the most part. The quality of beers is the same, but you'll not find the innovation in Germany that you'll find here. I suggest enjoying a Victory Fest or Stoudts Ocktoberfest for some local PA fare that can easily compare to local German brews.

    Beer purity laws are actually a problem for most German brewers who export or wish to experiment. No fruit or spices are allowed to be added to the beers. As americans ask for more craft beers, more extreme beers are hitting the market. Imported beers from Germany are seeing a loss of market share.

    http://www.beertown.org/craftbrewing/statistics.html

  • Xeones||

    I like Corona, Tecate, and Pacifico.

    Mexican beer is the cheapest of beers.

    In my foolish youth i once chased a pitch-black barleywine with a bottle of Miller High Life (the champagne of beers, mang). In comparison, the Miller tasted exactly like water that some pennies had been soaking in.

  • robc||

    deluded1,

    Technically, the reinheitsgebot no longer applies due to EU laws. Of course, most of the germans still follow it.

    A lot of the american craft brewers were not formally trained, not trained in Germany. This is less true now than in the '80s, for example, but is still the case. A number went straight from homebrewing to pro brewing.

  • ||

    Anyone who thinks American micro brews are anywhere close to what they make in Belguim, Germany and Czech Republic is dellusional or hasn't been there.

    John, I'll agree and disagree. You're right that German and Czech beers in particular don't travel well and that, generally speaking, the best American attempts at those styles still pale in comparison to the real thing on tap. My favorite style is Altbier and God knows you can't find a good American-brewed one. However, the American scene has its own thing going. You can't really compare a Franconian Helles to an American Double IPA, and if you like hoppy and/or "extreme" beers then you really can't beat the American scene. Personally, I'm with you... I'm a German beer guy. But that doesn't mean somebody who loves their Troegs Nugget Nectar is wrong. It's like a Scandinavian saying that American music sucks because they're a metalhead. If you're into metal, that may be true. But if you're into hip-hop...

  • robc||

    I read a story a few years back about some German brewers traveling the US on a tour. They were trying to see why the small US breweries were growing while the small German ones were going under and/or getting bought up by the megabreweries.

    Anyway, at one of the beer bars, they tried some fruity beer and were wowed by it. Then they discovered it was made in Belgium. They had never tried anything like it. Purity laws for the lose!

  • ||

    As americans ask for more craft beers, more extreme beers are hitting the market. Imported beers from Germany are seeing a loss of market share.

    Meh... What comes around goes around. Much like the excesses of '70s prog rock gave way to the punk revolution, I think we'll soon see a revival of good ol' simple beer... not imperial, barrel-aged, brett-infused ales, but sessionable British-style ales and German-style lagers and weizens. Extreme beer will still be around no doubt, but the pendulum will swing back and forth.

  • ||

    I should keep a notebook of the bizarre complements I get for my beer.

    I once made a sparkling meade that everyone agreed tasted of bacon. In a good way!

    I don't get the whole IPA craze. IPA is shitty beer that was made that way to survive the trip to India.

    I agree - It's a totally imbalanced style - the beer equivilent of the bulldog breed.

  • fez||

    Nice article. As a home-brewer it's appreciated.

    The beer snobs need to go back to the troll cave. It's beer, there is no wrong beer. There's infected beer and "experiments" that have gone wrong, but aside from those two incidents it's beer. It's better than water, makes ugly people better looking, and makes annoying spouses bearable. For the love of god beer in any form is a miracle and only rivaled by mead and wine.

  • ||

    John, I like bitterness, that's why I love extra hoppy IPAs. I also eat raw cranberries, unsweetened dark chocolate, and dandelion greens. Sue me.

  • ||

    Episiarch | February 24, 2009, 10:07am | #

    John, I like bitterness


    Ah joe, we miss you...

  • ||

    the Miller tasted exactly like water that some pennies had been soaking in.

    I swear I read that as water that some penises had been soaking in. Not that I would know what that tasted like. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  • robc||

    ClubMedSux,

    I agree with you. Some of the great german styles have no decent version in America. However, the best American Helles or Alt (as poor as they are) kicks the ass of the best German DIPA or APA.

    We have done better with the English styles, although a good American ESB is hard to find.

    What we do well is improve on others. I will take an average APA over a good EPA any day. England has also forgotten the purpose of an IPA. It should be hopped to survive a round the world boat journey. Then you drink it fresh instead of shipping it to India. Somehow the english have forgotten how to hop their beers (and American west coast hops give a great twist to it anyway).

    One thing American brewers should never be forgiven for is the creation of the worst style ever. No, not piss-water, Im talking about American Wheat. Hefeweizens are about the yeast. Yummy, yummy yeast. Making a wheat beer with a neutral yeast is just suck.

  • ||

    Epi, On another note, I started making my own dark chocolate from raw beans about a year ago. It's every bit as entertaining as homebrew, and in many ways more technical. And you can make stuff that is worlds better than anything you can get in a store.

  • robc||

    domo,

    I started making my own dark chocolate

    That sounds awsome. Im seriously considering making cheese. I already make my own crackers (okay, Ive done it once) so I could have a beer and cheese pairing with only homemade products served.

  • ||

    ClubMedSux,

    Some of it is my objection to the extreme styles of beer here. There is a crispness and a lean flavor to the german beers that i cannot find in any American beers. They are not water but they are not too bitter, have flavor and balance. American beers, and I have tried a ton of them, always have an off flavor which to me tastes like a hint of skunkyness. It seems that Americans have developed this taste for off flavors in their beers. The skunkier and the stronger it is the better it is taken to be. I don't get it. The only two American beers I really enjoy that much are Widemeer hefa and some of the Linenkukel stuff.

    I have been meaning to try my own beer brewing for years now, but I am not confident of my ability to make anything drinkable. But I would like to see if I could make something without the American skunk funk that seems to haunt every micro brew.

  • ||

    domo, I am too lazy to homebrew or make dark chocolate (Lindt makes a nice 85% and 99% dark, though). The most I can get myself to do is make gravlax.

  • ||

    "Hefeweizens are about the yeast. Yummy, yummy yeast. Making a wheat beer with a neutral yeast is just suck."

    Hefeweizens are wonderful. But Americans make them too sweet in my experience. They are drinkable but they could be a lot better.

  • ||

    Im seriously considering making cheese

    Great idea. If you can make fresh mozzarella, I may have to kidnap you and make you a slave in my basement making it. There are no pork stores in NE CT, damn it!!!

  • ||

    robc,

    Check out this site for chocolate info. If you want to see what home made can taste like, try a few bars from here.

    John, I'm convinced American beer suffers from dirty lines. Good british pubs pull dilute bleach through their aparatus every day - few pubs I know clean more than once a week. The resulting off flavors are really noticable, but the process results in waste that most americans wont accept. This was a hot button issue for CAMRA when I was "over there"

  • ||

    robc, there are some excellent, well hopped beers in England. They are generally from pretty small brewers though and distribution is often rather irregular. Next time I find some good dryer, hoppier examples on draft or in the bottle I'll try and make note of them. Then hijack a stimulus thread of course.

  • deluded1||

    A number of micro brews started in a kitchen, but an equally large number have their roots in germany - a formal education in brewing requires an apprenticeship in Germany, Belgium or the Czech republic. Though I do believe they plan on relaxing those restrictions a bit.

    Jim Koch - Kitchen Brewer
    Ron Barchet - 9 years germany, 2 years belgium
    Both make awesome beers.

    I was unaware the the purity law was redacted and replaced. Interesting to see what new beers will be coming out of Germany of the next decade. I'll be there for Ocktoberfest in '10 for two weeks, that should give me some time to explore.

    Making Cheese = Awesome - I make some american with my house IPA...delicious

  • Xeones||

    a beer and cheese pairing with only homemade products

    It'll really get going once you start making your own summer sausage.

    I swear I read that as water that some penises had been soaking in.

    Whoa! Where is your mind on a Tuesday morning?

  • Vines & Cattle||

    There's some fermenting behind me right now!

    *Cowers*

  • lunchstealer||

    You know, for a long time I thought that the problem with Bud et al was that they were crappy copies of a good style. But then I had Pilsners in Europe (Hungary and Poland - I'll admit I didn't get a draft in Prague, so there may be hope yet).

    As near as I can tell, the problem with American beers is they copied a really crappy style of beer.

  • ||

    As near as I can tell, the problem with American beers is they copied a really crappy style of beer.

    Die a thousand deaths for your blasphemy! Seriously, the czech versions in prague are the best I've had. And the best copies are Japanese - again in Japan, IMO. I never went to poland or hungary, but the polish stuff I've had in a bottle was dreck.

  • robc||

    Gravity Head 2009 - The Liver Olympics starts Friday at New Albanian Brewing Company in New Albany, IN.

  • Kolohe||

    Another achievement of history's greatest monster.

  • robc||

    Another

    ???

    I thought it was his only one.

  • ||

    "As near as I can tell, the problem with American beers is they copied a really crappy style of beer."

    What Domoarrigato said!! Pilsner Urquell is fabulous, even the stuff you get in bottles over here isn't bad. Of course Prague has its own brew pups which are even better.

    The micro brewers may have been trained in Germany, but I have yet to find their beer to be as good. I really wish it wasn't true, but I have yet to find an American micro brew that is that good.

  • JD||

    Good article, but I have to take exception with two points.

    The first is that homebrewers were generally turning out products inferior to the commercial breweries during the 40s and 50s. I don't know why people think it's difficult to make good homebrew. There are very few ingredients needed, and if you get good ingredients, a decent recipe, and you're careful with your sanitation, it's easy to make something good. Think about it this way: would you say, "Clearly, 'home-cookers' can't make food as good as what comes from big factories!"?

    Second thing: "the mash that remains after brewing beer can be distilled into liquor" Eh? That doesn't even make a whole lot of sense. To get hard liquor, you distill something that contains alcohol. Spent grains can be used in making liquor (the sour mash process), but you don't distill them into liquor.

  • ||

    I've got to second BakedPenguin's first post. The law needs an exemption for home distillers. Any ideas how to make that happen?

  • Robert||

    Anybody know of a pilsner that approximates the taste of real czech stuff out of the tap?


    I think you want bottled Lobko (light or dark), but just try and get it. Only place I know is the Bohemian Hall in Astoria, Queens.

    Anyway, the point of your Budweisers, Ballantines, whatevers, is not to be anyone's favorite brew. Even the people who work at or own Miller, etc. have beers & ales they like better, as I'm sure they'd acknowledge. The point of the bland beers is to be inoffensive, broadly acceptable and consistent, and at that they succeed admirably. You get a keg of Michelob, you can be sure nobody's going to be repelled by it, even if not many are very enthusiastic about it; there's not a keg of anything the entire crowd would prefer.

  • lunchstealer||

    Second thing: "the mash that remains after brewing beer can be distilled into liquor" Eh? That doesn't even make a whole lot of sense. To get hard liquor, you distill something that contains alcohol. Spent grains can be used in making liquor (the sour mash process), but you don't distill them into liquor.

    It's even more nonsensical. The mash that remains has had as much of the fermentable sugars removed as possible. You could probably re-extract some more sugar, but it's not a good source. The wort could be distilled, but you're better off making beer. Moonshine is rarely as good as commercially distilled stuff. One batch of Dortmunder Export style my roomate and I made (he did the mashing, so he gets most of the credit) was better than any German import I've had (German imports are generally not treated all that well on the trip across the pond, so I'm not saying it was teh best bier evar).

    As for Pilsners, I hate Pilsner Urquell. It's just so completely disappointing. The hop flavors just aren't good and it lacks body. I've had it on tap in the US, and UK. Not in Pilsn.

    For a good Czech beer, find yourself some Krusovice. (I think pronounced crew-so-VEE-chuh)

  • Kolohe||

    I thought it was his only one.

    Trucking and airline deregulation.

  • ||

    Lunchstealer,

    Krusovice is devine and PU is much better in the Czech Republic than over here, but I even like it here.

  • ||

    "I've got to second BakedPenguin's first post. The law needs an exemption for home distillers. Any ideas how to make that happen?"

    New Zealand is the only country in the world that allows home distilling. The objection to it is that since you have to boil large amounts of liquid it creates a fire hazard. That seems like bunk to me, but that is the reason that is given. I would love to try my hand at distilling and do a couple of barrells and let them age in my garage.

  • lunchstealer||

    According to some disreputable friends from a browncoat board I used to hang out on, Australia allows - or at least ignores - home distilling.

  • ||

    lunchstealer, Pilsner Urquell is a nice, light pilsner suitable for consumption over an extended period of time. It doesn't seem to travel well though. Before I had it in continental europe I thought it was rubbish. It's actually a pleasant pilsner, but nothing amazing. I'd quite often drink it on long summer nights in Copenhagen.

  • ||

    Say what you will, beer snobs. I like Budweiser. I like Harp. I like Bass Ale. I don't drink them to get drunk. I like the taste. I don't like Heineken or Guiness or half the craft beers I've tried. Who gives a shit? Drink what you like and have a good time.

    In short, what fez said.

  • Seitz||

    Late to the party, but I'll second the recommendations for Three Floyds. The Alpha King is one of the tastiest Ales I've ever had. I just tried the Sierra Nevada Torpedo last night for the first time, and it too is delicious.

    Southern Tier makes a nice high alcohol IPA that tastes great and will get you fucked up in a hurry (11% ABV). The high hopped ales are really where it's at right now.

  • Eric S.||

    Lunchstealer is right: Pilsner is OK but kind of boring, no matter who's brewing it. Further, American craft beer is so exciting these days I rarely drink imported beer anymore, save the occasional Duvel or Delirium.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I can only imagine that 20th century prohibitionist foretold the end of the universe should people be allowed to brew at home.

    If it were all like the crappy wine I made at home, it would turn millions of Americans off to drinking for good.

  • Ska||

    I don't know how this beer tastes, but it's got a great name:

    http://www.verginabeer.com/english/index2_en.html

  • ||

    Of course Prague has its own brew pups which are even better.

    RC'z Law award winner. I imagine a brew pup would be awesome indeed.

  • Stagman||

    Pilsners, Hefeweizens and Lagers are for women. Be a man a drink a beer that you can't see through.

  • ||

    I like Fat Tire, but I don't drink terribly much.

  • ||

    RC,

    A brew pup is a very rare animal native to the deep Bohemian forests. They are small canine that actually piss fine beer. They were very prized by the local nobility an in some cases actually worshiped by the local peasentry. Sadly in the 19th Century the Habsburgs engaged in a captive breading and mass factory farming of brew pups. This resulted in the inbreeding and the infamous brew pup influenza outbreak of 1901, which resulted in the death of 100% of all brew pups in captivity. Today a few brew pups remain in the wild and in illegal Czech afterhours clubs.

  • ||

    anyone had new glarus beer from wisconsin? all of their beer are AMAZING!!! simply wonderful. http://www.newglarusbrewing.com/

  • ||

    First, I completely agree with robc that American Hefes are a miserable excuse for a beer style. I can see the Widmer Brothers sitting around thinking, "Here's an idea... Let's brew a beer whose defining characteristics are banana esters and clove phenols, but brew it without the banana and clove flavors! Brilliant!"

    And Stagman... If lagers are for girls, but beers you can't see through are for men, what are Schwarzbiers and Doppelbocks for? Jamie Lee Curtis and Hillary Swank?

  • ||

    this is the best blog thread on the internets since the market tanked.

  • robc||

    this is the best blog thread on the internets since the market tanked.

    FTFY

  • Stagman||

    And Stagman... If lagers are for girls, but beers you can't see through are for men, what are Schwarzbiers and Doppelbocks for? Jamie Lee Curtis and Hillary Swank?

    Well, yes, but you have to include Bdavid Bowie and Eddy Izzard.

  • Bobby Bonanza||

    Interesting timing. It is currently illegal to homebrew in Alabama, but in one hour, Alabama homebrewers plan to host a homebrew tasting with the Alabama legislature:

    http://www.auburnbrewclub.org/2009/02/21/2009-legislative-reception-by-alabama-home-brewers/

    Hopefully Alabama will soon legalize homebrewing.. just like Utah is about to do.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Maurkov - from the Kiwi's website, it sounds like it was a fluke even there. A Dem congress guy introduced a bill to allow it in 2002, but we all know how that process goes.

  • Some Other Guy||

    Absolutely three cheers to Three Floyds. Their Pride and Joy was my gateway to American craft brewing. I'd imagine that I've drunk at least a thousand pints of it in my life.

  • ||

    Late to the thread, but what a thread! I've been homebrewing since just slightly before it became trendy. I haven't brewed much recently, but I discovered some fellow brewers in my local RLC, and so we're going to start a local RBC chapter. :-)

    Best (widely distributed commercial) beer in the world is Anchor Liberty Ale, with Anchor Steam close behind.

  • Ron||

    God bless him! Now you have websites like http://www.homebrewtalk.com with tens of thousands of hobbyists.

  • ||

    I would say, cheers to the fine tribute to innovation. Instead I say, damn I could use a delicious beer right about now.

    I hear they frown on that at school, though.

  • ||

    A beer you can't see through: Sprecher (Milwaukee) Brewery's Black Bavarian.

    Give some credit to Fritz Maytag who rescued San Francisco's Anchor Steam Brewery from closure in the 1960s and helped kickstart the American microbrewery industry.

    If you get close to Leipzig, Germany try a glass of Köstritzer Schwarz, a very good regional dark lager.

  • Sean||

    For those of you in Northern NJ, look for Cricket Hill and Boaks. Cricket Hill makes a Hopnotic IPA that is decent. Boaks makes an Imperial Stout that is quite good.

    My favorite brewery right now is Dogfish Head. Not all of their beers are great, but when they miss the mark it is because they are swinging for the fences on everything they make, and sometimes you hit some foul balls.

    I brought the Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA to a a super bowl party, and everybody loved it. Victory's Hop Devil is my go to beer when I can't decide what to get, and Vistory makes a nice Saison as well. While not widely available on my part of the east coast, San Diego based Green Flash makes some fine beers. I have never been disappointed n their beers.

  • ||

    Deluded1 to Troy:

    "My suggestion was simply that if you were to try an american beer bar, you would be pleasantly suprised, not only by the quality, but by the innovation in style."

    I doubt it. Isn't it clear to you that Troy's mind is closed? Anything American is shit. Anything European (or maybe Mexican) is superior. Don't confuse him with the facts.

    "Simply put, if you think that these beers are 'obscure backwater shithole pisswater' you would find yourself mistaken."

    No he wouldn't. Like every ignoramus, he regards himself as already in possession of all the facts and understanding he needs.

    JR

  • ||

    "Anyone who thinks American micro brews are anywhere close to what they make in Belguim, Germany and Czech Republic is dellusional or hasn't been there."

    I've been there, and I think the best beer in the world is made by small breweries in the United States.

    You have to go there. Beer doesn't travel well."

    True.

    "I am not sure if it is the water, the beer puirity laws, the air or what. But even the best well intentioned American hippie micro brewer can't touch what they do over there."

    Bullshit. And as for the purity law, that's been out the window for years, thanks to the EU.

    "That is my beer snob rant for the day."

    Try learning something about the subject before you post your next one.

    JR

  • ||

    As a non-drinker, I have no dog in this fight. It is a good article, though. Two points:

    1. Witches were hanged, not burned.

    2. The limited distribution of Coors was the basis for the movie "Smokey and the Bandit", one of my all time faves.

  • ||

    Domo - Try Lagunitas' Czech Pilsner. It's pretty damned good for an American attempt at this style. Trumer Pils is also good.

    Count me among the hop heads. I love stouts, porters, pale ales, barleywines, a fair amount of Belgians and a good Czech style Pilsner. I'm just now getting into some sour beers.

    But, nothing beats a solid American style IPA. Green Flash's West Coast IPA is probably my fave for a session beer. The first homebrew me and my buddy made was a clone of Two Hearted Ale from Bell's.

    The two best I've had are Russian River's Pliny the Elder and Stone's 10th Anniversary IPA.

    Other good examples include:
    Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA
    Pizza Port's Hop 15
    Rogue's Imperial IPA
    Stone Ruination
    Firestone Walker's Union Jack
    Moylan's Hopsickle
    Lagunitas Maximus
    Avery's Maharaj

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