Historical Tidbits: Beer Styles and the Law, 1913

In 1913, the editors of the brewing trade magazine American Brewer contacted the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Inspection Board in hopes that someone there would clarify the meaning of the (still relatively new) pure food and drug laws. Under what conditions, asked the magazine’s staff, could a brewer use the term “Pilsen” or “Bohemian” on his labels?

The inspection board’s chair responded reported that brewers could avoid paying fines (or worse) for violations of the laws by sticking to beer beers “of the true style after which they are named.” Otherwise, the government would consider them to be “misbranded.”

If, for example, a brewer wanted to use a label or trademark containing the words “Pilsen Style” or Wuerzburger Style,” he must “use the same materials and process of manufacture” as used in the country where those beers originated.

He thought it unlikely that any American brewer would be able to comply. As he pointed out, for decades brewers had added  corn and rice to  their beers because “the people of the United States did not desire a heavy type of beer made from malt.”

“It therefore seems to me. . . that we are not producing in this country beers of the Wuerzburger or Culmbacher types” but rather an American beer with a foreign name.

“I think that the sooner the brewers of this country get away from the use of foreign names on their beers and sell their products on their merits, letting the consumer know that they are an American type of beer different in quality from foreign beers, the better it will be for the whole industry.”

The editors at AB disagreed. There was “no guarantee,” they pointed out, that a German brewer making, say, Bohemian or Wuerzburger beer was not also using adjuncts.

Moreover, brewing processes were not set in stone: A brewer could create a Bohemian type beer using any number of processes and materials. Still, the editors agreed that brewers should stop using foreign names because it was clear that the Department of Agriculture intended to enforce the law: A year earlier, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Georgia had seized a shipment of bottled beer whose labels read “Special Export Extra Pale Beer. Brewed from the very best malt and hops.”

The attorney claimed that the beer contained “little if any malt” and plenty of “other grains.” (The brewer paid a one hundred dollar fine.)


Source: “The Pure Food Law in Relation to the Brewing Industry,” American Brewer 46, no. 5 (May 1913): 230-231.

Historical Tidbits: Blood-drinking in the 1870s

In the 1870s, many Americans latched onto the latest fad, imported fresh from France: They’d travel by carriage to their local slaughterhouses -- known as "abattoirs," the word being another French import. There the manager would usher the guests into a room set aside for the purpose, and pour them a glass of hot, steaming blood.

Enthusiasts claimed that the beverage cured paralysis, consumption (tuberculosis), and fatigue. Thin people gained weight; fat people lost; and the weak became strong. Blood-drinkers had become so numerous at the Brighton Abattoir just outside Boston that the facility’s management considered building a hotel to accomodate the vistors.

Not everyone was convinced. One doctor said that he and his medical colleagues hesitated to prescribe the "tonic." It was "generally conceded," he explained to a reporter, "that the appetite for blood becomes even stronger than that for liquor, and cases have been known where it has produced mania of the most violent type." (*1)

Miracle cure? Or addictive toxin? You be the judge.  


*1: "The Blood-Cure," Chicago Tribune, November 30, 1877, p. 8A.

Historical Tidbits: Gus Busch on Being a "Winner"

In the 1950s and 1960s, August Busch, Jr. --- more commonly known as Gus --- steered Anheuser-Busch into brewing domination, toppling the Uihlein family and Schlitz Brewing from their spot as kings of beer.

Gus Busch gambled on a strategy of spending money to make money, a tactic that paid off but transformed him into a target. "'It’s wonderful to be a winner,'" he mused during an interview, but "'the only one who really loves a winner is the winner himself.'"

Everyone else enjoyed the “delight” of "taking potshots" at him.”

Nor, he added, did the pleasure of being number one provide him or anyone else at Anheuser-Busch “‘with any sense of permanent security.’”


Source: “Promotional Flair Keeps Busch On Top,” Business Week, April 13, 1963, p. 116.

Historical Tidbits: Cannabis Beer, 1998

In the 1990s, as now, beermakers of all sizes scrambled to figure out how to woo an increasingly fragmented consumer audience. Novelty (read: weird) beer styles flowed freely: ice beer, clear beer, flavored beers.

The Frederick Brewing Company of Frederick, Maryland put its own spin on anything-goes: Hempen Ale, which it brewed using seeds of the cannabis plant. The company's brewmaster hastened to assure the concerned that the brewery used sterilized seeds that would not reproduce and so could not be used to grow pot.

The seeds, explained the company's CEO, added protein and produced a beer with "an earthy slightly spicy flavor" and a "frothy meringue-like head." 

Head retention, he added, was "incredible." [High on head?]

The New York Times reporter who visited the brewery agreed. The beer's "creamy froth lasted thirty minutes," she told readers.

As for the beer itself? A "nicely bitter brown ale, clean and crisp with a gentle aroma and hoppy aftertaste." Price? In Manhattan a bottle ranged from 99 cents on the Upper West Side, to $1.75 on the Upper East Side, and $1.59 in chic SoHo. (That's roughly $1.25 to $2.25 in today's dollars.)


Source: "Cannabis Beer? Not What You Think," New York Times, April 15, 1998, p. F7.

Historical Tidbits: Beer. The Kegmaster Saves Draft Beer, 1954

From 1954: Kegmaster, Inc. launched a new device designed to help bar owners prevent waste and earn profits. According to the company, its new Kegmaster dispenser "automatically measures every glassful, down to a fraction of an ounce," and is designed to extract "all the beer in a keg, letting none of it get flat." Bar owners no longer needed to rely "on the skill of the bartender."

Instead, the Kegmaster dispenser "hydraulically draws each portion into a measuring chamber" designed to hold the precise size of a serving. "When the bartender draws a glass, the beer in the chamber flows out" into the glass, and "fills up again automatically." No waste, no fuss, no muss.

Hmmmmm. Question is: Did the Kegmaster "machine" pull an "honest pint"?


Source: "Beer From the Machine," Business Week, April 3, 1954, p. 102.

Tip o' the mug -- and a wink -- to Jeff Alworth of Beervana and his Honest Pint Project.

Historical Tidbits: Beer. Beer and Food, 1934-1935

In the spirit of the spate of predictions that 2009 will be the "year of beer and food," I can't resist adding some historical perspective. (*1)


In a piece written for a brewing trade journal, Julia Norwood noted the a happy "tendency" that had "gained favor since the return of legal beer," namely the "use of this foamy beverage" as an ingredient in cooking. Bottled beer, she explained, added "savoriness" and a "unique and distinctive flavor" to all kinds of dishes. "This 'new deal' in cooking," she reported, had "gained particular favor among some of the leading hotel chefs" in the United States. (*2)

And if not, the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, intended that it would. Norwood was the director of the Modern Science Institute, an Ohio-based marketing firm. The Institute, and Norwood, had been hired by Owens-Illinois to persuade consumers that bottled beer was best?

Why bottled beer? Because American Can Company had recently announced it had developed a metal container suitable for beer. Canned beer would be easier and less expensive to ship than bottles, so O-I needed to persuade consumers to stick with bottles.

Over the next year, O-I sponsored a series of "beer recipe announcements" for use during radio broadcasts. "The publicity given bottled beer through its frequent mention" during the radio segments, Norwood reported to brewers, "will naturally produce beneficial results for the entire brewing industry." (*3)

Many brewers agreed. It made no difference to them whether people bought beer in bottles or cans, just as long as they bought beer. The owners of Griesedieck Brewing in St. Louis hopped on the cooking-with-beer bandwagon inn the summer of 1935, when it ran a series of ads featuring a recipe for German Beer Soup.

Gluek Brewing, located in Minneapolis, joined the effort with newspaper ads that featured beer-based recipes. "My dear madam!," read one ad. "May I present to you Burgomeister's Apple Fritters, a triumph of the old-time art of cooking with beer!" (*4)

Lager fritters. Yum! For a 2009 version of food-and-beer, head over to the food-and-beer page hosted by the Brewers Association.


*1: For some predictions see: Jay's, as well as those at The Brew Site, and at Hop Talk.

*2: Julia Norwood, "Now It's Beef Steak Cooked With Beer," Brewery Age 2 (March 1934): 64.

*3: "Beer Recipes Requested By Many Radio Stations," Brewery Age 3 (March 1935): 83.

*4: Edwin O. Welde, "Gluek Presents Old-Time Art of Cooking With Beer," Brewery Age 3 (July 1935): 76.