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Brewing in America

Brewing in America began long before European settlers ever set foot on our shores.  Native Americans developed brewing techniques like almost all other civilizations around the world.  Tribes in the American Southwest and Mexico created a beverage call tiswin, a corn-based fermented drink.  They also produced a wine using the saguaro cactus called nawai.  Legend even has it that the reason Geronimo left the reservation to return to his people’s land was the lack of tiswin available.  Tribes in the east also brewed with corn (maize) but included other ingredients like birch sap according to renowned beer historian and critic Michael Jackson (not that one!).

The first evidence of non-native brewing occurred in 1587 when Virginian colonists brewed a corn-based beer, also according to beer’s MJ.  This would mean that brewing took place at the Roanoke Colony in southeastern Virginia, better known as the Lost Colony.  The year 1587 is interesting as most of the colonists returned to England in 1586 with Sir Francis Drake and the colony was re-colonized in 1587 by Simon Fernandez.  The year 1587 seems to present a gap in time but in all likelihood, the colonists who returned to England (introducing maize, tobacco, and potatoes to Britain) that year would have discussed their life within the colony, of which brewing would be a part.  Growing up in Williamsburg, VA I have a certain attachment to the history of the area but I digress.

America’s first commercial brewery was started by the Dutch West India Company on lower Manhattan in 1632.  The first beers in the colonies were British-style ales: stouts, bitters, and pale ales.  In the 1770s, British brewers began brewing a new style of ale called a porter.  This is significant in American brewing history as our first president was a very big fan, insisting that there be porter regularly stocked at Mount Vernon (


Recipe for Small Beer (left) and George Washington (right)
Photo from Gawker

George Washington also brewed his own beer at Mount Vernon.  The New York Public Library discovered and published a recipe for homemade beer from Washington’s “Notebook as a Virginia Colonel.”  The recipe is:

“To Make Small Beer

Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Melasses (sic) into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask–leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working–Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.”

Other Founding Fathers were known to brew as well.  Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha, would brew 15 gallons every two weeks to supply Monticello.  James Madison wanted to create a national brewery and appoint a Secretary of Beer.  Benjamin Franklin imbibed spruce beer but surprisingly, given his other exploits, thought that his conspirators drank too much (Serious Eats).  George Washington helped many American brewers with his “Buy American” policy- encouraging Americans to buy products made in the colonies and not import British goods.  There are many breweries today that pay homage to Washington’s love of beer and porter.  My personal favorite is Alewerks’ Washington’s Porter from Williamsburg, VA.  Not a clone of George’s own recipe but a delicious tribute to our first president.


Alewerks Brewing Company- brewer of Washington’s Porter

Beer in America undertook a great change in the mid-1800s with the great influx of German immigrants who brought their own brewing traditions.  The oldest operating American brewery, D.G. Yuengling and Son, was opened in 1829 by German immigrants.  Originally known as Eagle Brewing, it changed its name in for good in 1873.  The German brewers, like Yuengling, brewed lagers rather than ale.  Lager lasted longer, was easier to produce on a large scale, and began to overtake ales as the preferred American beer.

The 1840s saw the beginnings of large scale beer production in Milwaukee, WI.  The Best Brewing Company was the first but was soon followed by Blatz, Schlitz, and Miller Brewing Companies.  These breweries used rail to ship their products to hubs in Chicago and Saint Louis where it could be further distributed.  Meanwhile in Saint Louis a German soap maker named Eberhard Anheuser bought a struggling brewery which would eventually be run by his son-in-law, Adolphus Busch, and renamed Anheuser-Busch.  Adolphus began brewing a style of beer popular in Europe, Bohemian Lager.  Named for the city of Budweis, A-B started brewing Budweiser in 1876.  A-B was the first American brewer to utilize refrigerated railcars to distribute beer.  That led to Budweiser becoming the first national brand of beer.

The first American style of beer was actually a hybrid of ale and lager called Steam beer.  Now called California Common beer, it was brewed in San Francisco during the Gold Rush.  The beer is brewed by fermenting lager yeast at higher temperatures.  When first invented, it was considered a cheap and low-quality beer.

The American Dark Ages began on January 16th, 1919 with the ratification of the 18th Amendment- Prohibition.  The Temperance Movement caused many smaller breweries to close before Prohibition was enacted.  The larger breweries began brewing “near-beer” and flavored sodas like root beer and ginger ale to get by.  Beer became less common during the 20s as it was much easier to make decent liquor than decent beer and liquor sold for more money.  Beer was made legal again before the repeal of the 18th Amendment with the passing of the Cullen-Harrison Act which redefined the Volstead Act (the law that enforced the 18th Amendment).  The Cullen-Harrison Act allowed beer under 3.2% alcohol to be produced.  The 18th Amendment prohibited “intoxicating liquors” and beer with 3.2% alcohol was declared not intoxicating and thus legal under the Cullen-Harrison Act which was strongly supported by President Roosevelt.


Prohibition Protest

Prohibition was finally repealed on December 5th, 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment (remember- you can drink at 21 but not 18).  The 21st Amendment offered a general repeal of Prohibition but left much up to the states.  With so many “dry” counties brewing was hardly resurgent after the repeal but the invention of the beer can in 1936 certainly helped.  By 1940 beer production finally reached pre-Prohibition levels but with half as many breweries as there were in 1910.  During WWII breweries were required to allocate 15% of their production for military use.  The national grain supply was not enough to support the war effort and many smaller breweries closed due to the high cost of brewing.  Beer production grew by over 40% during WWII by using adjuncts like rice and corn to supplement the lack of grain.  The companies that were able to keep up with demand and the rising costs positioned themselves to take over the market in post-war America.  There were 407 breweries in operation in 1950 but that dwindled to 140 by 1961.

The 1960s brought us the aluminum beer can (invented by Coors) and the pull-tab can.  Canned beer outperformed bottled beer for the first time in 1969.  The Sixties also saw Fritz Maytag (of washing machine fame) buy Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, CA.  He began brewing a higher quality beer for the non-mainstream crowd.  In 1977 Jack McAuliffe opened New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, CA.  New Albion was a short lived venture but is seen as the first micro- or craft brewery.  The following year President Carter removed the federal excise tax on personal brewing, effectively legalizing Americans to brew beer in their homes once more.

Perfect Segue! Sierra Nevada cans waiting to be filled. photo from

Perfect Segue! Sierra Nevada cans waiting to be filled.
photo from

The Eighties began with the all-time American low of 80 operational breweries (owned by only 51 companies) in 1983.  Breweries like Sierra Nevada (1980) and Samuel Adams (1984) were started early in the decade and continue today.  Brewing, specifically craftbrewing, began to boom in the late 1990s.  As of July 2012 there were 2,126 breweries in the United States.  It is a great time in history to be a fan of beer.  Our choices are greater than ever before so get out there and try something new!



Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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Homefield Grill January 2013 Beer Dinner

As per usual, Walt Powell’s monthly beer dinners at Homefield Grill do not disappoint. I have had the pleasure of going to them for about two years now. They have awesome food themes and even better beer. This month the theme was breakfast, which is my favorite meal of the day. Needless to say I was very excited.  The five course menu went as follows:


First course

Ricotta and Mascarpone Blintz with Lemon Cranberry Jam paired with New Blegium Tart Lychee


Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 01  Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 03

I was a tad bit nervous as I don’t typically like things that seem overly sweet but the blintz was light and the jam the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness that was mellowed ever so slightly by the sourness of the Tart Lychee.


Second Course

Agave Oatmeal and Leek Soup paired with Sixpoint Sweet Action

Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 04 Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 05


The soup was a thoughtful update to the traditional Irish classic. It was rich in flavor without being too rich or so heavy that ended up being lightened even more by Sixpoint’s take on a cream ale. I have to be honest, I haven’t tried many cream ales, but this one stands well on its own.


Third Course

Fried Egg “Salad” with Candied Jalapeño Bacon, Potatoes, Caramelized Onions and Smoke Tomato Coulees paired with Ommegang Duvel Rustica

Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 08 Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 10


Lets be honest, this was a hash.  A perfect wake up Sunday morning cozy hash. I can’t explain it unbiasedly because it is my preferred breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) of champions. This take on it was a welcomed diversion with the sweet and spicy bacon. The whole thing paired beautifully with the rustic belgian golden ale that is Duvel Rustica. Light, yet full, the perfect beer.


Fourth Course

Seared Venison Biscuits and Gravy with Spicy Corn on the Cob paired with Goose Island Matilda

Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 12 Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 15


Biscuits and gravy,  a southern tradition. Goose Island Matilda, a midwest tradition. Paired so well together, this very well could bring the north and south together … if it needed to be again. This Belgian style pale ale easily cut through the rich heaviness of the meat and gravy.


Fifth Course

Fried Yellow Plantain Pancakes with Blackberry Whipped Cream and Chocolate Syrup paired with Ska Brewing Mole Stout

Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 19 Homefield Jan 2013 beer dinner - 17

The complete complexity of the this spicy, hoppy, malty porter paired perfectly with the familiar flavors in this desert.  I was at my limit by this point, but Jon gobbled up not only his own serving, but mine as well.

Chef Scott Reed and his team impressed at every turn and the beer paired by Walt made it that much better. It’s always the highlight of the month, and I look forward to making your mouth water next time also.

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Introducing: Monica Marler

Monica - Varga HeadShot - Medium Icon

First off I’d like to thank Jimmy for letting me lend a voice to his blog, and my husband Jon for supporting my beer habit.

It took me a while to get into beer. Jon and I have friends who helped us expand our taste and knowledge; dipping a toe into the craft beer scene. I started with “Girly Beers”, like Lindemans Framboise , until the day I had a Tripel Karmeliet. That day, the heavens opened up, and I saw what beer could be. With a new found interest, and dear husband’s new home brew kit, the possibilities were endless.

I love creating things in the kitchen, so home brewing was the natural next step where I could foster this new love of fermentation and hops. Fast forward a few years and though I don’t brew like I use to, the growing beer scene in Texas keeps me just as excited as that first day. I hope to share just a tad bit of that enthusiasm with you.

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The Beginning of Modern Brewing

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, feudalism and Christianity take hold in Germany and most of central Europe.  There are hundreds of recorded laws in the first millenium C.E. that specifically address beer production.  The most interesting  (at least to me) is that even the great Charlemagne had laws written regarding beer production.  He was even known to drink and enjoy beer himself, but usually not more than three cups with a meal (source).  It was under the rule of Charlemagne that we begin to see the massive expansion of the church and by extension, monasteries.

Charlemagne as the King of Hearts

Charlemagne as the King of Hearts

In early Europe, a monastery was the center of life for many towns and villages.  Just like your average citizens, monks also brewed but the end result was still not beer as we know it today.  The early Middle Age brewers made a similar product called gruit.  Gruit is a malt-based beverage flavored with herbs.  It is impossible to be more specific than that as brewers of the day used ALL available herbs, some of were even narcotic in nature.  There is evidence of this practice from the British Isles to France to Scandinavia.  In fact, Finnish brewers still make a beer-like beverage called sahti which is spiced with juniper.

12th Century Viking Brewhouse in Scotland (photo from

12th Century Viking Brewhouse in Scotland (photo from

The biggest difference between gruit and beer is hops.

According to the German Beer Institute, hops have been farmed dating back to roughly 730 C.E.  Hop usage seems to have arrived during the Carolingian Era as the first recorded mention of hops in beer was written by St. Adalhard of Corbie in 822.  Research conducted by beer historian Richard Unger suggests that hops were regularly grown in monastic gardens as early as the 11th century.  Hops farms from the Middle Age have been discovered all over Europe.  By the early 1300s, it seems that the use of hops in beer was rampant (source).

Hops became widespread for multiple reasons but the most significant was preservation.  The oils found naturally in hops allowed beer to be stored for months under the right conditions.  There were not many foods that could last that long during this time.  Now that beer could last longer and was cheaper to make (less spoilage reduces costs dramatically) it really took off.

Hop Vine at Odell  photo courtesy of Jon Marler

Hop Vine at Odell
photo courtesy of Jon Marler

Beer was so popular that by the late 1400s Germany was facing a shortage of grains, specifically wheat and rye.  Bakers did not have enough of these grains to make bread and so the Reinheitsgebot was enacted.  First put forward in 1487 but not passed until 1516, the Reinheitsgebot, better known as the German Purity Law, limited brewers to three ingredients: water, barley, and hops.  Beer was still fermented in open air vats at the time so yeast was unknown to brewers until Louis Pasteur discovered the role played by microorganisms in fermentation in 1857.  Yeast was then added to the Reinheitsgebot.  The Reinheitsgebot is the oldest and still valid food quality law in Germany (German Beer Institute).

From the Reinheitsgebot we can jump to beer in America.  There are breweries today that have been in existence since before the Purity Law was enacted, the oldest being Weihenstephan in Bavaria which has been operational since 1040 and maybe even before that!  For our purposes though, we are now up to the point where we would recognize the product being made as beer even today.

If you are interested in any of the styles mentioned above the American craft brewers Sam Adams, New Belgium, and Dogfish Head have all produced a variation of Sahti in recent years.  Austin, TX brewers, Jester King, produce Gotlandsdricka, a beer flavored with sweet gale, juniper berries, and smoked malts reminiscent of the beers made by Vikings (I’m an unabashed JK fanboy and my friends have this waiting for me when I return, yum!).

Label for Jester King's Gotlandsdricka

Label for Jester King’s Gotlandsdricka


Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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History of the World part 2

As the Sumerian Dynasty wained and eventually assimilated with the Akkadians, a city-state called Babylon began its rise to power.  Babylon became significant under the rule of its sixth king, Hammurabi, who ruled from 1792-1750 BCE.  Hammurabi is probably best remembered from middle school history class for his system of laws, the Code of Hammurabi.  It was this set of laws that gave us rules like “an eye for an eye” and “if someone cuts down a tree on someone else’s land, he will pay for it.” The Code of Hammurabi is the one of the oldest deciphered writings and has been used as a model for modern law around the world.  Hammurabi is even depicted within the U.S. Capitol Building and the U.S. Supreme Court Building as one of the world’s great lawgivers.

Marble bas-relief of Hammurabi in the US Capitol Building

Marble bas-relief of Hammurabi in the U.S. Capitol Building
(picture from Architect of the Capitol)

Now, it needs to be mentioned that brewing in the ancient world was considered a feminine task.  Even commercial brewing in major Sumerian cities like Godin Tepe and Ur, was done by women.  The Babylonians continued the practice as evidenced in Hammurabi’s Code.  Beer is directly discussed in three separate laws within the code:

If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept corn according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.

If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.

If a “sister of a god” open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.

The presence of beer in the culture was so significant that laws from 1750 BCE directly reference its sale and service.  Regulation of beer was important to the Babylonians, not just because they drank it themselves, but because they also exported it.  The Babylonians regularly traded beer with Egypt (source).

Wooden Statues found in tomb of Meketre, Egyptian Steward circa 2061-1995 BCE

Wooden Statues found in tomb of Meketre, Egyptian Steward (circa 2061-1995 BCE). Statues depict brewing process used during the era.

The Egyptians used beer as compensation for work, offering workers three rations of it daily.  It is said, somewhat truthfully and somewhat anecdotally, that beer built the pyramids as workers on the Giza plateau were almost certainly paid in beer.  It was also used medicinally to treat upwards of a 100 different ailments.  Beer was so immensely popular throughout Egypt that perhaps the most despised of Cleopatra’s actions during her reign was the first ever institution of a beer tax (source).

Beer seems to have migrated to Greece and Italy from Mesopotamian roots but brewing was also developed independently early on in Europe.  Historian Merryn Dineley found traces of beer brewing equipment on Scotland’s Orkney Islands in a settlement named Skara Brae that dates back to the Neolithic era, roughly 5,000 years ago.  The artifacts discovered, while demonstrative of a brewing culture, are not likely to have been a brewery or pub but simply a location where brewing took place, probably on a domestic scale (source).

Excavated Roman brewery in Regensburg, Germany

Excavated Roman brewery in Regensburg, Germany
(picture from the German Beer Institute)

The Greeks and Romans preferred wine to beer and considered beer to be the drink of barbarians.  The Romans discovered when they first ventured into modern day Germany, during the first century BCE, that the Germanic tribes also drank a malt-based fermented beverage, just like the drink that made its way from Mesopotamia.  A Roman historian, Tacitus, claimed “To drink, the Teutons have a horrible brew fermented from barley or wheat, a brew which has only a very far removed similarity to wine (source).”  The Romans were a literate society and looked down upon the Germanic peoples who often brewed with a variety of ingredients that included: oak bark, aspen leaves, and even bovine gall bladders.  It is easy to see why the wine-swilling Romans did not like these “barbarians.”

Brimming with contradiction, we know that the Roman armies enjoyed a good brew as in 1983 an ancient brewery was discovered at the encampment called Casta Regina in Regensburg, Germany.  The site was built by Marcus Aurelius in 179 BCE (source).

Earlier, in 1935, archaeologists unearthed a Celtic burial mound outside Kasendorf, Germany and found an earthenware amphora that contained the remnants of beer from 800 BCE!  Even more specifically, it was determined that the concoction was a black wheat ale flavored with oak leaves according to the German Beer Institute (source).  That is the oldest known evidence of brewing in Europe and perfectly demonstrates the reaches of early brewing.

Originating in Mesopotamia but also created in the British Isles, beer spread over continents and through civilizations to meet in Germany, the home of modern beer as we know it!

Next week, I’ll trace the European origins of beer up through the beginning of beer in America.


Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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History of the World part 1

It’s just beer, right?  Why are the History and Discovery Channels doing specials on beer?  If you believe the History Channel, then you know that the answer is:Aliens-meme

Joking aside, the invention and subsequent influence yielded by beer helped shape civilization as we know it.   Beer dates back to early Mesopotamia and traces of it have been found in cultures all over the world.   It may even be the oldest fermented beverage on the planet. Beer can be traced back to the earliest civilizations, when humankind began settling into organized societies and made the transformation from hunter/gatherer to farmer.  It was, most likely, created by accident when a farmer left his recently harvested grain outside in the rain and upon returning days later, sampled the concoction that remained.  The slurry of water and grain, now fermented from the heat of the sun and the microscopic yeast that came into contact with it, was the world’s first beer.  The is no singular and specific story to which the invention can be attributed but this is the best guess of historians and archaeologists.  If true, it is estimated to have taken place sometime around 9500 BCE during the early Neolithic Era.  The early Neolithic Era is when we first find the cultivation of crops and storage of food supplies within granaries.  This is still pre-pottery but there were ceramic vessels in which the fermentation could have occurred.

The next appearance of a fermented beverage occurs in China around 7000 BCE.  This beverage wouldn’t be beer as we traditionally know it as it is believed to have been a rice, honey, and fruit based beverage.  Rice, though frowned upon by modern brewers, is still a fermentable cereal grain and thus, I believe this beverage to also be a precursor to beer as we know it today.  Shards of bronze and pottery vessels, sixteen to be precise, were discovered in the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in China’s Henan province.  Without getting too technical, the shards were determined to have once held a similar liquid (13 of 16 at least).  The scientists who studied the shards identified certain acidities to be consistent with grapes- offering relatively conclusive proof that they once held an early fermented beverage.  If you are interested in the more technical science behind the discovery, the conclusions can be found here).

The earliest chemical evidence of barley based beer brings us back to the Middle East and the Sumerians.  Located in the Zagros Mountains of modern Iran, at the archaeological site of Godin Tepe, a Sumerian trading post, researchers discovered “a pale yellowish residue sticking to the interior of a double-handled pottery jar.”   Archaeological chemist Dr. Patrick McGovern and organic chemist Dr. Rudolph Michel tested the substance and the results were quite conclusive.

“Using a standard chemical test, Dr. McGovern and Dr. Michel determined that the residue contained calcium oxalate, which is a major component of material that settles out at the bottom of brewery vats and storage tanks and is characteristic of barley beer.
Although oxalates occur naturally in large amounts in spinach and rhubarb, which grow in the Iranian highlands today, the researchers said those plants probably made up a minor part of human diet in antiquity, compared with barley bread and beer. In any event, they said, spinach and rhubarb were unlikely to have been stored or processed in the type of pottery vessels found in the ruins.  Moreover, archeologists said they found considerable quantitities of barley in the trading post’s storerooms.(NYT)”
Hieroglyph found on Sumerian pottery in Godin Tepe.  Image shows three people drinking from a vessel that is believed to hold beer.

Hieroglyph found on Sumerian pottery in Godin Tepe. Image shows three people drinking from a vessel that is believed to hold beer.


The Sumerians were already known to scholars as large beer drinkers due to the heavy presence of beer-related artwork throughout the culture.  It’s during the Sumerian civilization that we first see widespread production and consumption of beer with verifiable evidence.   The oldest records of Sumerian culture date as far back as 2500 BCE but the culture may be as old as 4000 BCE.  These records include a poem dedicated to the Sumerian matron goddess of beer, Ninkasi, now called the Hymn of Ninkasi.  The poem describes, in great detail, the brewing process used to create beer.  My favorite excerpt is:

Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the

filtered beer of the collector vat,

It is [like] the onrush of

Tigris and Euphrates.

The Sumerian legend of Gilgamesh also references beer and its production though not in the detail of Ninkasi’s Hymn.  The Epic of Gigamesh is one of, and may be THE, oldest works of literature in the world.  Gilgamesh is the precursor to Beowulf and Homer and his tale dates back to 2500 BCE.  The most common version of the story was written twelve tablets that were created in 1300-1000 BCE by Sin-liqe-unninni, a Sumerian priest, and was discovered in 1849 by Hormuzd Rassam- the first Assyrian, Ottoman, and Middle Eastern archaeologist.  In the tale, Gilgamesh attends a wedding where beer is prominently featured, once again demonstrating the significance of the beverage to the culture.

Sumerian tablets were discovered in Ebla, Syria in 1974 that also addressed beer.  The Ebla Tablets identified a beer named for the city, much like many of our modern German beers.  The tablets possessed information that indicated that there were multiple types of beer available in the city.  The tablets, written between 2500-2250 BCE, offer evidence that brewer’s used different recipes to make different flavors or styles of beer.

That is a pretty good breaking point for today.  Next week I’ll discuss beer as it relates to the Hammurabi Code and the production of beer throughout Egypt.  I hope you all enjoyed!

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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What is Beer?

The very question is heavily debated right now with different entities all trying to define, and possibly shape, the culture, process, and even volume.  There is plenty of time to debate craft versus non-craft and eventually I’ll offer my two cents, but today I am going to be completely objective.

What IS beer?



Beer is a fermented, malt-based alcoholic beverage; the composition of which includes water, fermentable sugar from starch, yeast, and hops.

Water is the simplest ingredient in beer.  Mineral content varies from location to location but for our purposes today, water is H2O and the number one ingredient in beer.

Almost all beer is brewed with cereal grains like wheat or rye but the most common, by far, is barley.  Barley is considered integral to brewing due in large part to the German Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law.  The German influence in America is very evident in our brewing style but beer can also be made from rice, sorghum, corn, and other “non-standard” ingredients that brewers call adjuncts.  Whether cereal grain or adjunct, all beer must have a starch-based fermentable sugar.  Without getting too technical (that comes later), the starches used in beer are converted to sugars in a process called saccharification.  That is where our next ingredient, yeast, enters.

Milled Barley

Milled Barley after Saccharification

Yeast are microorganisms that are used to consume the fermentable sugars during the beer making process.  That is fermentation, the conversion of sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  Yeast can impart flavor and aroma to a beer as well.

The last ingredient, and perhaps the most defining, is hops.  Hops are the flowers (usually called cones) of the humulus lupulus plant.  Hops are added to beer to impart flavor and aroma but also act as a natural preservative.  Hops are best known as the bitterering agent in beer.

Hop Vine at Odell photo courtesy of Jon Marler

Hop Vine at Odell
photo courtesy of Jon Marler

The fermented combination of water, saccharified starch, yeast, and hops yields beer in the broadest possible sense.  This is my definition of beer but every entity related to beer defines it by much narrower definitions.  The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission uses one of the most strict definitions:

“Beer is defined as a malt beverage containing 1/2 of 1% or more alcohol by volume and not more than 4% of alcohol by weight.”

There is absolutely no mention of the ingredients used in the TABC legal definition (source) yet anything outside of those parameters is not beer.

I promised to remain objective today so I’ll stop here.  Next week, I’ll discuss the history of beer.  I’ll also go more in depth on things like adjuncts and the Reinheitsgebot in the coming weeks so stay tuned.


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I have been derelict in my duties as a blogger lately.  My intent is to write an article a week but unfortunately beer is my hobby and not my job so it doesn’t pay the bills.  My full-time job is Soldier in the US Army.  Specifically, I am a bomb disposal technician.  Recently I learned that I will be deploying in the next few months for a year.  I am not going to shut the blog down or put it on hold while I’m gone.  Instead I have a series of articles planned that I hope will help educate the average beer drinker.  My good friend and co-blogger, Jon, will help me keep the site up to date with the happenings of craft beer around Texas.  Thank you all for understanding and your support. 

– Jimmy

Obligatory Cool Guy Photo (No magazine = totally posed) This photo was taken outside the building where I lived in Iraq during 2009.

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Battle de Belgian: The Tale of the Austin Golden Ale

Lately it seems as though many Texas breweries are releasing Belgian-style Golden Ales.  Last weekend one of my favorite Austin bars, the Draughthouse, had the two newest Belgian Golden Ales on tap so I headed down to try them.

With Jon, his wife Monica, and JoAnna in tow we found a table and ordered the three Texas Belgian-style Golden Ales that were on tap: South Austin Brewing Company’s Golden Ale, Ranger Creek’s Lucky Ol’ Sun, and Austin Beerworks Gold Fist.  I was hoping to compare Adelbert’s Rambler with these but it was no longer on tap.  Full from dinner at Uchiko (HOLY YUM!) the four of us decided to share the three beers.

First up was Golden Ale from South Austin Brewing Company.  It came served in a snifter and had a mild but sweet aroma.  I found the beer light and fruity.  It is a terrific beer for the coming hotter months.

The second one we tried was the new seasonal from Ranger Creek called Lucky Ol’ Sun.  There was a wonderful funkiness to it with lots of fruit and some really earthy graininess.  It’s named for the Johnny Cash version of the song “That Lucky Old Sun.”

Last up was a new seasonal from Austin Beerworks called Gold Fist.  I tasted a ton of caramel and rich malty notes with a lot of wonderful Belgian spiciness.  It was just flat out pleasant.

After trying all three beers we attempted to pick a favorite.  JoAnna bowed out of the voting so we were left with three voters.  Lucky Ol’ Sun had two first place votes and the other two tied for second.  I really liked all three beers so get out there and find them yourself!


LATE ADDITION:  I attended the debut of Rogness Brewing on Monday at Black Star Co-op and there is a new Belgian Golden in town.  Bella is VERY spicy and finishes super dry.  It would go incredibly well with spicy foods or the shepard’s pie I had for dinner.  Bottom line, tasty beer.

Rogness Brewing Ost Porter and Bella Belgian Golden Ale

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Twisted X Brewing

Twisted X Co-Founder Jim Sampson

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the inaugural tour of Twisted X Brewing Company in Cedar Park, TX.  Twisted X brews what they call “Tex-Mex Beer,” specifically lagers.


The tour starts the way any brewery tour  should, with beer.  For $10 you get a tour and a pint glass with three tokens redeemable for full pours of fresh craft beer.  I started my tour with my favorite Twisted X beer, Senor Viejo. Aged in Republic Tequila barrels that once  housed Jack Daniels, Senor Viejo is an imperial black lager or schwarzbier with increased ABV.  I first had Senor Viejo at a Homefield Grill beer dinner and I have loved it since.  The tequila barrels add vanilla and oak to a beer full of chocolate and roasty flavors.


The tour is presented by Jim Sampson, a co-founder of Twisted X.  Jim took us through the steps of the brewing process and the equipment used.  Twisted X utilizes a three barrel system.  That means that each batch makes six kegs worth of beer.  The brewery also uses an old eight barrel wine fermenter so that two batches can be lagered simultaneously.  Jim and his partner Shane Bordeau have plans to open a 30 barrel system in the future which means more Twisted X beer!


As the tour finished Jim and Shane began to mingle throughout the crowd while I grabbed my second beer, Siesta, a prickly pear lager brewed with red corn for color and featuring prickly pears from a friend’s yard.  The beer had a refreshing tartness to it and was easily JoAnna’s favorite of all the Twisted X selections.  I then drank one of JoAnna’s beer tokens (someone had to drive) and tried Cow Creek dark lager.  It’s a Vienna style lager is the same vein as Negro Modelo.  Now, I must also mention that Twisted X was recently commissioned by Billy Gibson of ZZ Top to brew a beer like Negro Modelo (Billy’ favorite) for his SXSW appearance.  Twisted X agreed and created Ocho Suerte.  Jim and Shane hope to brew more Ocho Suerte once they open their larger brewery and I can’t wait!

Monica and JoAnna enjoying their beer

My last beer of the day was the original Twisted X Premium Tex Mex Lager.  This is the beer that will change the way you eat tex-mex food.  Imagine a Dos Equis made by hand with premium ingredients in the craft style with your tacos al pastor.  Homefield Grill recently had a blind taste test contest that pair Twisted X Premium Tex Mex Lager  and Dos Equis.  The winner would receive a permanent tap handle at the restaurant and Twisted X won by more than a four to one margin!

I highly recommend that you check out Twisted X at one of their tours.  The people are friendly and the beer is great.  One can’t ask for more!  If you don’t, you should fear the Twisted X owl!  Try the flagship Fuerte- a jalapeno pilsner with a really nice kick!


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