Category: The Session

The Session #125 SMaSH Beers

Thanks to Mark Lindner for hosting this month’s The Sessions, aka Beer Blogging Friday, Session #125 on SMaSH beers. Mark is author of By the Barrel, Bend Beer Librarian. We’ve never been to Bend, but we’ve brewed a lot of great beers, both ales and lagers, with Oregon hops.

We decided we’d write about our own experiences brewing historic SMaSH beers (an acronym which stands for Single Malt and Single Hop). We’ve brewed SMash ales and lagers and through our research we’ve uncovered recipes for historic SMaSH beers. Many have descriptors like “3,458 lbs malt” and “Coastal hops” or simply “Imperial” in reference to hop varieties, making them nearly impossible to pin down without secondary research.
We’ll answer Mark’s questions which he posed in his prompt hosting The Sessions. His questions regarding SMaSH beers appear in italics below.
Are they trendy? When would they be considered to be trendy? Have you seen/had a variant (x-infused, fruit, …) single malt and single hop beer? More than one?
It’s hard to say specifically when SMaSH beers were trendy. This depends on the location where you are and how long you’ve been there and how long you’ve been observing the local brewing scene. For myself (Mike) and Pete, who live in DC, many of our “hottest” beers are not SMaSH. Looking south, with Josh in Miami, many of the trendy commercial beers he sees are brewed with fruit and blends of exotic hops so that even if a SMaSH Gose or Berliner is brewed with all Pilsner (and no wheat malt) it will likely have fruit. If a Gose, kefir lime, coriander, salt, and if a Berliner, potentially other additions like mint, hibiscus, vanilla, lactose, and the list goes on. Though as you likely know, Berliner and Gose typically consist of a pils/wheat grist. You needn’t look too far in the Florida beer scene to find many non-SMaSH beers. With homebrewers its another story. Josh brews an incredible barleywine that is 100% Marris Otter and 100% Goldings hops with an English ale strain of yeast. This beer is incredible and I can recall brewing it with Josh and enjoying it with him when he lived in DC, nearly 10 years ago. This beer while only one malt and one hop, typically under goes a 120-240 minute boil. Effectively the process adds complexities that would otherwise be malt-driven.
We wonder about the style of SMaSH. Our concern is that varying fermentables, be they molasses, corn, or rice, might be considered in violation of SMaSH beer. In the link Mark shared in his announcement for the 2017 Central Oregon SMaSH festival, at least one beer there was fruited so we assume that leaves corn and rice in the realm of SMaSH beers. We certainly think it does!
What purpose do SMaSH beers fill? For you, personally, and/or generally.
For us, personally, SMaSH beers build our esteem for great brewers. Why use 10 malts when you can use 5? And why use 5 malts when 1 will suffice with a more challenging brewing process? They also show how the brewers who came before us were savvier than modern people think. Often in olden times beer process made up for what ingredients lacked. One article from the Sacramento daily record-union which appeared in 1887 said that the “choicest Hallertau, Wolznach, and Saaz hops are known in this market by name only; the real article is scarcely ever sent, because our buyers would not pay the price, so we have to put up with the inferior sort known principally as export hops.” Ouch! The article makes it sound like it was tough to be a west coast brewer making a Saaz or Hallertau SMaSH beer in 1887.
Do they fill a niche in any beer style space? One that matters to you? Are they a “style,” however you define that?
Quite often the beers that matter most to us are historical. Personally its a way to reconnect with brewers who were marginalized and written out of the history books, brewers of color, female brewers, and the Jews of the new world who cooked and cooled many a lagerbier. SMaSH beers often fill the niche in something like lager. Particularly pilsner, which for us consist of just pilsner malt and Czech Saaz or a German Hallertau variety hop. Of course these beers are much easier to brew today in that quality malt and hops are more easily available to source comparatively to historic homebrewers. Still, looking at the entrants from the 2017 SMaSH fest, the outliers were clear with only one entry for Berlinerweisse and Rauchbier. I think the styles of Berlinerweiss comparatively to pale ale or Rauchbier to IPA, couldn’t be more different.
Have you ever had an excellent one? As a SMaSH beer or as a beer, period./Do you brew them?

We’ve been lucky enough to drink AND brew (without sounding too pretentious) an excellent SMaSH beer at the recently-opened Portner’s Brewpub in Alexandria, Virginia. Owners Catherine and Margaret Portner, are Robert Portner’s great-great granddaughters, Robert Portner’s being one of the most important names in Virginia Beer History. Our beer was a SMaSH Strong Ale brewed with Golden Promise malt and East Kent Golding hops. We dry-hopped the beer for good measure which definitely moved it from a balanced historic Scottish ale with pale malt and English hops, towards the modern pallet. This was a collaborative beer with our historian colleague Garrett Peck who wrote a short biography on Wales. Wales is DC’s first brewer, as well as Alexandria, and in 1772, George Washington paid Andrew Wales over £8 for Strong Beer.

Portner Brewhouse Head Brewer, Brian McElvaney, Historian Garrett Peck, Co-Founder Catherine Portner, and Lost Lagers President Mike Stein
Are there any styles besides pale ale/IPA that can be achieved via a single malt and single hop beer? (How about achieved versus done quite well.)
Strong Ales, Lagers, and many other styles can be successfully achieved via a single malt and single hop. The same goes for Sour Ales (assuming you can use more than one yeast strain or yeast and other bacteria/microorganisms). Achieving a GREAT SMaSH beer is largely dependent on the brewer and his/her/they/them/ze/sie/hir practices and experience. For a dynamite pilsner you can use Weyerman’s floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner malt and Saaz Hops. OR a locally malted pilsner malt, if you’re in Massachusetts consider Valley Malt’s 2-row pilsner malt and Hallertau Mittlefruh. Or if you want to brew Vienna lager consider an all-Vienna malt SMaSH with your hop of choice. Or go historical and use Saaz. One could surely conceive of an IPA brewed with Golden Promise or Marris Otter and Cascade hops that would be recognizable to a more experienced palate, and still be enjoyable to those newer to craft beer. Why not double or triple dry hop? You could even dry hop twice and then tertiary dry hop in-keg if you’re a kegger and not a bottler.
Do they offer anything to drinkers, especially non-brewing drinkers?
It affords the drinker an opportunity to understand a specific type of malt or hop variety better, or better yet, drinkers are happy to enjoy a beer that tastes like beer.

The Session 117: More, More, More…

1893 English, Scottish, and Irish imports? Oh my! Potentially Ireland's biggest brewer as well as another famous Pale Ale brewer listed as Blood, Wolfe & Co's Celebrated?
1893 English, Scottish, and Irish imports? Oh my!

The announcement:

I have always been obsessed with asking what happens next or what is still ahead instead of simply embracing what is in the present. Ever since I heard about Beer Blogging Fridays, I have been toying with the idea of hosting a Session to paint a collective picture of what the future related to beer will be like. This month, Beer Means Business has the honour to host The Session and to make this happen. The final picture of Beer Future will be based on what you think we will see MORE of. Over the last 10 years, numerous topics have been presented and the bloggers who discussed them expressed a rich diversity of perspectives or specific areas of interest. Therefore, I refrain from giving you further ideas or examples. There are no limits in time, space or nature either. I would like you to let your imagination free, and capture ONE thing you think we will see MORE of with an explanation of the idea.

“When are we going to make future beer?” Bobby Bump asked me. All this focus on past brewers and ingredients long gone had brought him to this question. For now and for the foreseeable future Lost Lagers will keep brewing historic beer. The future holds more history and more beers brewed with ingredients and processes long gone.

To give context to Brewer Bobby Bump’s question, we had just finished brewing the last beer in the 1812 Project, a series of three separately-brewed ales, all made from the same recipe with varying amounts of fermentables to create an 8% ABV X Ale, 6% Strong Ale, and a table beer below 3%. These three distinct beers were then blended together to make a fourth beer, 1812 Project Porter. This was a beer reminiscent of the beers brewed two centuries ago in the District of Columbia.

I poured our beer for a sold-out audience at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History at programming provided by the Food History Program.

And so when “new” beers of this ilk come around again centuries later, I like to follow and call attention to them when I can.

Speaking directly to Csaba’s question, “what’s next?” My answer is: what’s next is again. Or, what is past is prologue.

Currently that means enjoying the present moment watching the historical breath of styles increasingly represented. It’s hard to track this kind of growth in terms of historical accuracy. Certainly one can say “10 breweries brewed a Lichtenhainer in 2014, 12 in 2015, and 18 so far this year.” In a very true sense of the word this would show growth. But ultimately, it will take a true consumer trend to have a brewery feel a need to produce a Lichtenhainer every year, every month, or every week at their brewery to sate customer demand. And while a Virginia brewery won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal for it’s Lichtenhainer, I predict smokey, slightly tart ale WILL NEVER be a raging driver of American beer markets in the near future.

But I do think hops (their simplicity in one-ingredient name having an incredible ability to flavor beer) are still the future. But I also think malt is the future. Can these two survive together? How could they not?

I believe it will be a long time before the beer world thinks of malt as compelling as hops. Once brewers recognize that beer in 18-? (potentially as early as 1797) was hopped with 2-4 lbs per barrel, there will be as much tantalizing promise in resurrecting that old recipe/ingredient/means of production as the Jewish brewery owner did in Trois-Rivières. Indeed, they already have.

In the meantime I’ll leave you with this, American Handy-Book as all of us at Lost Lagers call it. A book of amazing help to beer historians. Go to page 795, and you will see the hopping rates or lbs of “Hops in Kettle per American Barrel.” So, American brewers, how about a London pale bitter with 2 lbs of hops per barrel? Or a Russian export with 3 lbs per barrel? Or maybe even a modest attempt at a Burton export ale with 4 lbs hops per barrel? Another request, that your barley be floor malted.

Finally, a modern comparative figure for hops per barrel that may be of assistance for non-brewers. Here is a link to understand how large these historic numbers are. A published homebrew clone recipe that is considered hoppy. By our calculations that is 2.5 lbs of hops per barrel (7.5 ounces hops per 5.5 gallon batch of homebrew).

The Session 116: Gose: A Newly Traditional Beer

Guest post from Lost Lagers attorney Josh Hubner

“Would you like to try my gose?”

José held out a small tasting glass of a straw-colored, hazy beer. We were gathered around a table in the back of a dimly lit Miami bar, about an hour into a monthly get together hosted by the local hombrewers club, the Miami Area Society of Homebrewers (M.A.S.H., founded in 1995).

“Yeah, absolutely. Tell me about it,” I replied, taking the glass and bringing it to my nose for a whiff. “Whoa.”

“I made it with ocean water,” he said. “Really?” “Yeah man, I was at the beach the other day and filled up two carboys before I left.” I took a sip, and after the initial shock of drinking saltwater subsided, I noticed that while pungent, it was actually flavorful, with a rounded mouthfeel, and even somewhat balanced tartness. Extreme, yes, but not bad either.

“Wait, you brewed this entirely with ocean water?” I replied, dumbfounded. “Yup, pretty nuts right?” While unlike anything I’d ever tasted before, it couldn’t have been unlike any gose ever brewed before. In fact, it had all the characteristics that we’ve learned to expect: salt, sour, and herbal, with a wheat dominant grain character.

So why was I so surprised? First off, it was unexpected. I’ve seen commercial examples of gose all over the U.S., made with watermelon, guava, or mango. So the concept of non-traditional ingredients is nothing new. And I was in Miami, where the traditional “rules” of beer styles and ingredients never made it past Customs.  But saltwater in a beer? That was truly unexpected, even here.  

This beer was definitely not Reinheitsgebot.

But then again, neither is gose.

The origins of the style are murky, and likely have layers of convergent influences. A bottle of the Original Ritterguts Gose, a “sour German beer brewed with salt and spice,” states that it is “a Leipzig tradition since 1738.” In Randy Mosher’s, Radical Brewing, and in Tasting Beer, we know that the style originated in East Germany, in its namesake city of Goslar, 120 miles west of Leipzig. And was available in those cities, as well as in Jena, roughly 65 miles south of Leipzig. The Goslar Brewery was established along the Abzucht river (the Gose river is a tributary) in 995 and brews a helles gose and a dunkel gose, each weighing in at 4.9% ABV. Though it’s unknown when the beer brewed in Gose became the gose we recognize today.

So we have the name, and geographic region, but that doesn’t explain the coriander or the salt.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum var. microcarpum, var. vulgare) is a member of the carrot family, the plant itself is called cilantro, and used in cooking. The seeds, also used in cooking, are commonly used in gin distillation, in Belgian witbier[1] Stewart, Amy. “The Drunken Botanist” p.156., and of course in gose.

Knowing that Belgium and the Low Countries were on-again, off-again, parts of the German empire throughout the first two thousand years, A.D., it makes sense that coriander would make it’s way into German brewing. Witbier from Belgium and genever from the Netherlands use coriander seed as an essential ingredient. But digging a little further provides additional insight.

The seeds of the coriander plant, unlike the pungent leaves, contain high levels of the monoterpene alcohols linalool and geraniol. If these compounds sound familiar, it is because linalool and geraniol are two essential oils commonly found in hops, and considered to be important factors in hop-derived beer flavor. Linalool (floral, spice) and geraniol (rose, citronella) occur in high concentrations in both Citra and Cascade hops, among others, and geraniol is a precursor to β-citronellol (lemon, lime) production in boiling wort[2]Takoi, K., et al, “The Contribution of Geraniol Metabolism to the Citrus Flavor of Beer: Synergy of Geraniol and β-citronellol Under Coexistence with Excess Linalool.” The Institute of Brewing … Continue reading. So whether they knew it or not, these northeastern German brewers were “hopping” their tart, salty, wheat beers by adding coriander seeds to the kettle. It tastes pretty good too.

Salt (NaCl) is not uncommon as a beer ingredient, albeit generally a passive one; all groundwater contains ions of sodium and chloride. Additionally, adding salt to a beer as a water treatment, is a legitimate practice to increase mouthfeel [3]Mosher, Randy. “Radical Brewing” p.55. and to decrease the perception of bitterness, and water hardness. And while the taste threshold for saltiness varies from person to person, the generally recognized threshold for sodium chloride is 200-300ppm (mg/L), meaning it would not add saltiness below that level, and would add saltiness above that level. One well-researched homebrew recipe for gose calls for an addition of salt at 735ppm (14g in a 5 gal. batch) for a gose reminiscent of Bayerischer Banhof in Leipzig, and suggests doubling that amount to replicate U.S. craft brewed examples.

It is quite possible then, that the groundwater around Goslar, Leipzig, and Jena was traditionally quite hard, requiring salt additions to round out the harshness and to make for a palatable beer. We’ll need to look into that. But common experience tells us that we develop taste tolerance to salt over time – the more (or less) you use, the more (or less) you need to use. I haven’t seen any consistent explanation as to why gose beer became synonymous with salty, but it’s surely possible that it evolved over time, first as a treatment for hard water, then later for flavoring as tastes adapted to the salt.

Which brings us back to the saltwater gose. One of the great things about brewing in Miami, is that there is no real limit to what should – or shouldn’t – go into a beer. Miami, as a microcosm of the resurgence of the style in the US, where one can extrapolate that more gose is produced than anywhere else in the world, is the perfect setting for a gose brewed with water from the Atlantic. And why not? Where is it written that your salt has to come from a shaker?

Being too quick to judge this homebrewed gose would be just as foolish as a Bavarian scoffing at the beer poured two hundred years ago in Leipzig. Salt and coriander in a soured hefeweizen, flaunting the Reinheitsgebot? Blasphemy!

But there is something about a gose that makes it the perfect summer beer, and maybe that’s why it’s found a foothold here in the U.S. It is simultaneously tart, refreshing, light, and – hopefully – just a tad bit salty. Add some fruit to the mix, as is common among craft brewers, and also traditionally (mit schuss, as is also common with Berliner Weisse), and you have the perfect beer for a hot, sunny day.

About two weeks after I tried the saltwater gose, I was back at the same Miami bar, Boxelder Craft Beer Market. This time sitting outside at a picnic table on a typically hot and sunny October afternoon.

Original Ritterguts Gose at Boxelder Craft Beer Market
Original Ritterguts Gose at Boxelder Craft Beer Market

The featured bottle of the day: The Original Ritterguts Gose, brewed from the traditional recipe, dating back hundreds of years. So of course I ordered a bottle. It poured almost identical to the homebrewed beer I sampled before; hazy and deep straw yellow. The taste, compared to the other, was subdued and delightful. Tart, refreshing, and just noticeably salty – a perfect accompaniment to the hot, sunny afternoon. My drinking companion took a sip too: “Oh, god, that’s gross! Why would you drink that?!?!?”

I probably should have warned her that it was not a hefeweizen, but I was too late. In responding to the rhetorical question though, I drink gose from time to time because it is unique among beers and quite complex, while still being light and refreshing. No two are alike, and new varieties are popping up seemingly everywhere.

It’s somehow fitting for an antiquated style from northeastern Germany, almost lost to history, to now be emblematic of the diverse and creative American Craft Beer market. And even though everything under the sun had been done a thousand times over, there’s a lot of life left in old styles, and more still to uncover.


1 Stewart, Amy. “The Drunken Botanist” p.156.
2 Takoi, K., et al, “The Contribution of Geraniol Metabolism to the Citrus Flavor of Beer: Synergy of Geraniol and β-citronellol Under Coexistence with Excess Linalool.” The Institute of Brewing & Distilling, 2010.
3 Mosher, Randy. “Radical Brewing” p.55.

The Session 115: The Role of Beer Books

Here is the announcement, in part on “The Role of Beer Books”, from Joan of Blog Birraire:

Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped develop their local beer scene. There’s also the -bad- role of books that regrettably misinform readers because their authors did not do their work properly. There are many different ways to tackle this topic.

In this world of misattribution, lack of legitimate sources, and not a fact checker in sight, it’s amazing anything is correct anymore.

But then, with longer-form formats like books it sets our hearts at ease to know there are beer historians like ourselves that take historical research VERY seriously. One of those historians is our good friend Garrett Peck. With this post we are writing to the theme of “books that helped develop their local beer scene.”

While Garrett’s 2014 book “Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C.” didn’t necessarily develop our local scene it did go above and beyond to document the history of the local brewing scene in our nation’s capital. In cataloging that long history of beer, DC’s scene does feel a new sense of legitimacy. For all of the “firsts” that our scene has experienced in the past 5+ years (first production brewery, first cidery/winery, first distillery), We still have an pre-prohibition OG history to celebrate.

DC is by nature a transient city. Representatives are re-elected. Representatives are unseated. New staffers come into town. There is the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and the Presidential Transition Act 2000. And every summer new interns, “hill rats” as they’re endearingly referred to, flood the district and look for cheap housing. Yet it seems every year affordable housing gets less and less. Gentrification some call it. Others call it ethnic cleansing.

Not to veer too far from beer, Garrett’s book is important because it has informed many brewing projects that are of the utmost import to us as beer historians. We have recreated beers that the historic Washington Brewery at Navy Yard produced in 1812. We have also recreated the lager of the largest-ever and most successful DC-brewery with a pre-prohibition style lager.

Garrett’s book asks big questions like “who was the first Brewer to make lager in Washington?” While this may seem trivial to the casual drinker it is of dire import to beer historians today. Brian Alberts, a PhD Candidate at Purdue University, is currently exploring the rise of lager breweries in the Midwest as a lens to explore how new German immigrants navigated the market revolution and dealt with assimilation into American culture.

While pre-prohibition style lagers gain popularity, and are generally indicative of a beer brewed with rice and/or corn, there were of course all-malt pre-prohibition lagers. Finally, pre-prohibition connotes a time as the genesis of lager brewing is not a monolith. The time frame of lager beer brewing is different in every state. Garrett’s research pinpoints the 1850s as the decade of the very first brewing of lager beer in Washington, D.C. And that means that a pre-prohibition lager in Washington, D.C. could be 160-years-old or 99-years-old at the youngest. The beer brewed in 1856 was called “lager” just as it was in 1917 (the last year of pre-prohibition brewing in Washington, D.C.) but it would be naive to think that the means of production like raw ingredients, brewing materials, and fermentation practices remain unchanged. Lager is not a monolith and neither should the brewing practices and flavor profiles of modern pre-prohibition lagers be all the same.

Garret’s book informs us that the District’s first brewers were immigrants. The first brewers in DC were Scottish, English and eventually German. His book does a fantastic job of documenting the earliest Brewers in DC. But perhaps the most important thing in Garret’s writing is the thirst it imparts to search for further answers to questions as important as “who brewed DC’s first lager?”

While I don’t want to give away Garrett’s book I will post what he writes in regards to his open-ended question:

A June 1856 article in the Evening Star noted that Joseph Davison, owner of the Washington Brewery, had brewed 20,000 gallons of lager the previous winter, meaning that he probably started in late 1855. Davison also advertised in the 1858 Boyd’s Directory that he was brewing lager in addition to his English-style ales.

Charles Gerecke advertised in the Evening Star in November and December 1856 that he was brewing lager at his brewery at Pennsylvania and Nineteenth Street. Gerecke then disappears from Washington’s historical brewing record. He was probably related to the Gerecke family that was importing lager from Philadelphia in the years’ prior, whose advertisements pop up frequently in that same newspaper. (Peck, 34)

It is likely that the first brewer of lager was not even a German, but an enterprising brewer of English ales. Certainly, the story of immigrants assimilating into American culture is classic, but so is the story of appropriating immigrant culture for financial gain. But this blip does not hide a much deeper German-American brewing tradition heralded by DC’s Christian Heurich, one of the longest brewing and most successful of his generation.

Very few people today equate DC as a beer town. But with a closer studying of the facts, DC as a brewing center does have deep historical roots. If indeed, DC’s first lager was brewed in 1855, that’s only 15 years after what is generally accepted as the first lager brewed in America. That distinction “first lager in America” belongs to John Wagner a Bavarian immigrant of Philadelphia.

So, America’s first lager was brewed in Philadelphia 176 years ago. And DC’s first lager was brewed 161 years ago. At least until another beer historian uncovers an earlier lager elsewhere (we’ll be looking).

Session 114: Homebrewing Pilsners – Pete’s Take

There’s a cliche among American craft beer fans that you get pulled in by hops and IPAs, you migrate to either sour beers or maybe imperial stouts, and eventually have the palate sophistication to appreciate pilsner’s subtle interplay of hops and malt. There’s a symmetry to this sophistication since most imbibers start with “pilsner” (in the McLager sense)

Homebrewing is less of a circle in this regard as nearly no one starts brewing macro-style lagers before craft beer. In my experience with the DC Homebrewers Club, brewers start with ales (hoppy or malty) and graduate to the much more demanding pilsners, where any fermentation flaw is magnified (again with a well coached detour through sour beers).

This month’s “The Session” prompt is pilsner- German, Czech, or otherwise and it’s place as “the pinnacle of the brewing craft.”

Charles Mingus, one of my favorite bass players and composers, has a phrase: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” As I drink my pilsner- in this case it’s the KC Pils from Boulevard Brewing. There is so much going on in this simply created beer. It has honey and toasted malt aromas, a very pleasantly soft flavor, less bitterness than most American (or Czech) versions, and finishes balanced ever so slightly sweet. It’s a complex beverage even as it’s imminently quaffable.

The simplicity of ingredients contrasting the complex outcome drew me to try my hand at brewing this beer. But first I required the necessary ingredients and brewing skill.

As part of this journey I had to go through the classic American homebrewer phase: homebrew chef. It’s a delightful phase and creativity is one aspect that drew me to homebrewing. To showcase the ability to create a beer that (you think) no one has ever created before, you mash a bunch of ingredients and styles together leading to, in my case, a white IPA dry hopped with rose and hibiscus. Entered into our club’s annual competition, the Cherry Blossom Competition, my brewing partner and I somehow won first place: a coveted bag of Weyermann floor-malted bohemian pilsner malt. A judge later told me that our pink beer was given extra points in the flower-centric competition.

Pete and brewing partner Cody Gabbard with the 2013 DC blue ribbon
Pete and brewing partner Cody Gabbard with the 2013 DC blue ribbon

After many more wild and crazy batches involving chocolate-raisin pie clone beers, indian curry saison, and some German multi-rest mashes, and finally a temperature controlled fridge, I was ready. The single decoction mash with Weyermann Pils, Saaz, and BoPils 2124 was a success. I toyed with temperatures, time, water profile, and the recipe just as much as my previous wild creations. When it won the Washington, DC State Fair that Summer, I felt proud of my brewing ability. It didn’t have any flowers or fruits, but I had a damn fine beer that I could call my own.

The Session 114…Pilsners

Thanks to Alistair Reece for hosting the 114th Session for which he has chosen Pilsner style beers for the topic. In the next sentence, after saying thanks, I will say my apologies. You see I’m not going to focus on the sensory differences of Czech and German Pilsners and their differences. I’m aware of the differences and assuming the rest of The Session writers stick to script, you will too. Even if you’ve never considered the sensory differences between German and Czech pils, Alistair’s prompt should make you.

So you want to market your pale lager brewed with Czech or German hops and Czech/German yeast. But how to do so? What do you put on your can/bottle/growler/crowler? Pilsner or pilsener? Pilsner-style or German-style pils? Northern-German Pils? Czech-style pilsner? Bohemian pilsner? Moravian Pils? I wont drone on about capitalization but I will say that hyphenation on labels is often a means of showing respect. Belgian-style, Gueuze-style Wild, Lambic-style ale all are descriptors I’ve read before. American brewers seem to be keen on giving props to the styles we associate with Belgian ale. I must agree with Evan Rail when he writes “The influence of Czech brewing often seems surprisingly underappreciated abroad.” I know its an old link, from May, but it bears repeating.

So an American brewery has the bright idea to pay homage to Czech brewing. How to do it? Do they hyphenate, “Czech-Style Pilsner,” or go for the more geocentric “Bohemian-style Pilsner”? I recently saw a “Moravian-style Pilsner” on a can in North Carolina. This was the first time I’ve ever seen that type of marketing in the US. But instead of a smaller, fledgling brewery, I’ve turned my attention to the third largest craft brewing company as of the 2015 numbers.

NOONER® PILSNER is an interesting case as there are multiple marketing methods on one bottle. The copy on the neck label says “German-style pilsners are the original session beers” more on session beer in a bit but for now, we can see the hyphen at work “German-style pilsners.” The front label has the brand Nooner and then simply PILSNER underneath. The bottle’s back label reads “classic German pilsner–one of the original session beers” but only after “Nooner Pilsner” appears at the tippy top. So perhaps you can have it more ways than one, hyphen and other.

German-style Pilsner aka Pilsner AKA PILSNER
German-style Pilsner aka Pilsner AKA PILSNER

“Original session beers” is an interesting claim and certainly one you can argue for or against. I’d rather make another claim: pilsner is the original IPA. Ok, that’s a complete lie, especially if you trace the timelines back and see that pale ale is older than pilsner, especially if you believe in the pilsner was invented in 1842. And why wouldn’t you?

I recently spoke with MBAA 2015 Award of Honor winner John Houseman. He mentioned that when he brewed at the Heilemann Brewery in the 1980s, National Premium “was a hoppy beer.” So, in the 80s, Premium was the hoppier beer comparatively to National Bohemian. Which brings us back to Bohemia, the western part of the country of modern day Czech Republic. Interestingly enough as Bohemian was less hoppy than Premium in the 80s, Bohemian hops seemed to be THE variety to brew hoppy beer in the 1880s.

I am reminded of the very first time I communicated with Evan Rail, four years ago. I was working on my thesis and had just come across this receipt for five bales of the Choicest Bohemian hops. I emailed Evan to see what he made of the receipt, and he wrote:

Although it sounds weird to see Czech hops in DC in 1910, it’s not such a strange thing — Czech hops have been famous and exported fairly widely for about a thousand years. In Ron’s posts you can find lots of records of Czech hops being used in breweries in Scotland, for example, like the 1868 William Younger No. 3 Export. Considering the reputation of Bohemian beer in America at the time, it kind of makes sense. 

The Ron in quote is Ron Pattison. Who has written extensively on William Younger No. 3. as it had Bohemian hops. Which brings us back to Bohemian beer, most famously, Pilsner.
To close out, some words from our host, “I just want people to re-discover what I consider the pinnacle of the brewing craft, so off hunting you go” and hunt we have. Thanks for hunting with me. And for the last photo, a recipe for Pilsen Type beer. This photo comes from the Walter E. Voigt collection in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Pilsen type beer brewed during Prohibition
Pilsen type beer brewed during Prohibition
Under the Pilsen type, you can also see “Dortmunder type.” An authentic prohibition-era recipe??? You bet. Now all you have to do is select the hops (Bavarian? Bohemian??), yeast, fermentation profile, filtration method (or not), packaging and finally, branding/marketing. Best of luck.

The Session # 113: Observe, Report, Reflect

If you’ve never heard of The Session, get acquainted. No time like the present.

I’d like to thank Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey for their suggestions for this session. Of particular import is the the tie-in to social researchers. This is something that is very dear to me both on a personal and an academic level. My father is a Sociologist and has been since he earned his PhD in Sociology from Princeton University in 1969.

Boak and Bailey encouraged participants in The Session to write “whatever you like spurred by the idea of ‘The Pub and The People” so I captured very quickly the scene at my local, stealing stylistically from “The Pub and The People.” I then wrote about the pub and the people of my father’s childhood whom I will only ever know through stories and photographs. The following is a bit of a light-hearted observing and reporting followed by a somber reflection. My father’s forthcoming memoir is both light hearted and somber so it seemed right to take a snippet of his work that won’t make it into his memoir after completing the prompt prescribed by Boak and Bailey.

Observing & Reporting

Small spot, not far from downtown, the White House, and the other monuments the tourists come to town for. 13 people  in the place, 5 women, 8 men, one child, one young man, not yet 21-years-old and without fuzz on his face. All seated. All drink beer, save the child and young man. The child has a bottle of formula or pumped breast milk and the not-yet-21-chap has a hot tea. Most sip pale ale, while some sup pale lager. 9 are tied to their mobiles. Most checking feeds, watching videos, one playing a voicemail from her dear old mum, as its her birthday. A pint of pale is on the house for the young woman with the birthday. The tv shows the Euro Cup, with no mention of Brexit. Highlights include Iceland making it into the next round with 8% of the country in attendance and Ireland defeating Italy. This seems to please most of the audience. No parrots, pot plants, or pool. No one leaves to smoke or vape. No quiz played no darts thrown yet everyone appears happy and content with their beer.


Last weekend I celebrated the US holiday of Father’s Day. Taking my wife and 1-year-old son to a beer festival, I was speaking on a panel about the current and future state of Virginia beer. It got me thinking about where my father and my grandfather were on the third Sunday in June when my now nearly 80-year-old father was a 1-year-old.

It would have been Sunday, June 19, 1938, and my father would have been 21-months-old. The setting was a suburb of Prague, then Czechoslovakia, a neighborhood called Branik. His father would have been 34 years old. Would my grandfather have taken my father to the pub at such a young age? It seems doubtful. But there is certainly the chance that my grandparents would have some bottled beer on hand or my grandfather might have slipped down the street to u Zlaty Piv, the pub’s name roughly translates to the Place of Golden Beer, and filled a pitcher of beer which the barman would have put on his account.

A dark shadow would have been cast on the day as the rising tensions of what was happening in Germany and the general unease of Europe. It was June in Prague, a most enjoyable time when golden lager flows. Yet at this time, June 1938, Czechoslovakia was 3 months from having the Sudetenland given over to Germany and 5 months from Kristallnacht, the glass from Jewish storefronts was shattered, temples were burned, and Jews were beaten in the streets. Most of Prague’s Jewry escaped harm but if respectable Jewish businessmen in suits, ties, and hats could be marched through the street of Erlangen, just outside of Nuremberg, why couldn’t the same happen in Prague?

Edvard Beneš, the second President of Czechoslovakia, who lead the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, had mobilized Czech troops to the north of the country in May 1938. Had my grandfather gone north with the ordered mobilization, a golden pint in Prague would have been the best welcome back home, after seeing his wife and 21-month-old-son, of course.

Victor Stein, Bohemian
Victor Stein, Bohemian

While currently researching the details of my grandfather’s military service, we do know that he was the only one of eight family members who survived the Holocaust. He went into Terezin, or Thereseinstadt, late in the war. And while his mother perished in Terezin, his siblings died in Maly Trostenets (modern day Belarus) and Auschwitz (modern day Poland). If he sighed a breath of relief after mobilization in 1938, he must have been overcome with emotion returning from the horrors of a concentration camp in 1945.

But, life resumed, as it had to for Victor, his wife Helen, and his son Peter. My father, Peter remembers a Sunday in 1946, being a 10-year-old and running to the pub to get a pitcher of beer per his father’s request. The following is a scene that was cut out of my father’s forthcoming memoir:

Kurt Marcus was my father’s cousin—he was an ardent socialist and Marxist before the war and spent the War years as an officer in the First Czechoslovak Army Corps fighting on the Eastern Front alongside the Soviet Red Army.

He was wounded and when a Russian nurse, Malvinka, helped him back to health, he proposed marriage. I was looking forward to hearing stories about the war and about Russia.

“Peter could you go downstairs to U Zlaty Piv and get us some beer for Kurt and Malvinka? They both like our local Branik beer.”

Helen, Kurt, Malvinka, Viktor, and Peter
Helen, Kurt, Malvinka, Viktor, and Peter

My father handed me a glass pitcher, patted my head, and off I went. It was 1946 and I was 10 years old– about a year after World War II ended. My father, Victor Stein, survived the Holocaust doing slave labor and time in the Terezin ghetto. He was the only person in a family of eight to survive. My Catholic mother Helen, who was a single parent during much of the war, was relieved to have him back.

I grabbed the pitcher carefully and instead of running down the stairs I walked as slowly as a 10-year-old boy can. I made a right turn when I reached the street and in a few minutes reached the Branik Beer Garden, U Zlaty Piv.

It was barely after noon and the garden was already alive with groups of men drinking their first half-liter of the day. A few families were waiting to be served by one of the two waiters. The day’s special, Svitckova na smetane, beef sirloin in cream sauce, gave off an inviting aroma. It came with a slice of knedliky, a bread dumpling, which would soak up the cream sauce. It made me hungry.

Flowers and planter boxes alongside the wooden banquet tables created the pub’s beer garden. The man behind the bar wearing a white shirt, vest, and a box tie atop his button down, motioned for me to approach. His outfit spoke of an era well before the German occupation.

I politely wished him “Dobry den,” good day, and then asked for beer, “Pivo prosim”. I handed the bar tender the heavy glass pitcher which had the logo of the local brewery etched into it. The bartender knew I was Victor Stein’s son; we had lunch in the garden a few weeks ago. The barman turned the wooden-handled faucet as he tilted the pitcher on its side, creating a 45 degree angle. The golden colored beer began to flow with very little foam.

But as the pitcher started to fill, a rocky white billow began to bloom atop the golden lager. The barman set the pitcher down to settle the foam. After a few minutes he again filled up the pitcher so that the head rose above its rim. He picked up his skimmer and ran the straight edge over the surface of the glass to behead the froth with his steel tool. He pushed the pitcher towards me and as I picked it up he cautioned me to be careful, echoing the advice my mother had given me earlier.

The walk back presented a real challenge. The sidewalk was bumpy; there were three steps down into the courtyard of the apartment building, then up 3 flights of a narrow winding staircase. I had a few breathless moments but kept my balance and did not spill a drop. I arrived feeling very proud of myself. And I’d have a story to share with my school friends on Monday.