I’m more of a wine guy myself, but I found this article in the New Yorker about Sam Calgione, founder of Dogfish Head beer, absolutely fascinating.
America used to be full of odd beers. In 1873, the country had some four thousand breweries, working in dozens of regional and ethnic styles. Brooklyn alone had nearly fifty. Beer was not only refreshing but nutritious, it was said—a “valuable substitute for vegetables,” as a member of the United States Sanitary Commission put it during the Civil War. The lagers brewed by Adolphus Busch and Frederick Pabst were among the best. In 1878, Maureen Ogle notes in her recent book “Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer,” Busch’s St. Louis Lager took on more than a hundred European beers at a competition in Paris. The lager came home with the gold, causing an “immense sensation,” in the words of a reporter from the Times.
Then came Prohibition, followed hard by industrialization. Beer went from barrel to bottle and from saloon to home refrigerator, and only the largest companies could afford to manufacture and distribute it. A generation raised on Coca-Cola had a hard time readjusting to beer’s bitterness, and brewers diluted their recipes accordingly. In 1953, Miller High Life was dismissed by one competitor as a beer for “women and beginners.” Within a decade, most other beers were just as flavorless.
There’s a ton of interesting nuggets in the article. One of my favorite beers is Blue Moon, and I was surprised to learn that they’re not a small, craft brewery, as they’d like you to believe, but rather a spinoff product by Coors designed to capitalize on the new market.
While wine as a beverage is older, beer has a long, long history. Sam Calgione and his brewers at Dogfish have actually brewed batches of beer based on recreated recipes dating back several thousands years BCE. And while wine fermentation is a natural process that’s gently pushed along by vineyards, the creation of beer is an intense labor.
It’s a great read. Check it out.