Elephants, like many of us, enjoy a good malted beverage when they can get it. At least twice in the past ten years, herds in India have stumbled upon barrels of rice beer, drained them with their trunks, and gone on drunken rampages. (The first time, they trampled four villagers; the second time they uprooted a pylon and electrocuted themselves.)Then the brew story:
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.
Beer has lagged well behind wine and organic produce in the ongoing reinvention of American cuisine. Yet the change over the past twenty years has been startling. In 1965, the United States had a single craft brewery: Anchor Brewing, in San Francisco. Today, there are nearly fifteen hundred. In liquor stores and upscale supermarkets, pumpkin ales and chocolate stouts compete for cooler space with wit beers, weiss beers, and imperial Pilsners. The King of Beers, once served in splendid isolation at many bars, is now surrounded by motley bottles with ridiculous names, like jesters at a Renaissance fair: SkullSplitter, Old Leghumper, Slam Dunkel, Troll Porter, Moose Drool, Power Tool, He’brew, and Ale Mary Full of Taste.
Still true about Miller High Life. Then there is the odd ball angle:
He made a stout with roasted chicory and St.-John’s-wort (“The world’s only antidepressant depressant,” he called it). While other brewers were dyeing their beer green for St. Patrick’s Day, Calagione brewed his with blue-green algae. “It tasted like appetizing pond scum,” he says. “The first sip, you were like, ‘Wow, that tasted like pond scum. But you know what? I kind of want a second sip.’ ”And the spiritual angle:
The grain had been cooked to mash by now, and a thick, lacy foam had bubbled to the surface. It was here that A. E. Housman’s famous lines—“Malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man”—were borne out.I'm ready for Sunday. But first, today, there is the Penn State/Michigan State game, which will be enhanced by a Sprecher Black Bavarian Lager. It's sublime.