Posts Tagged ‘history’

Caligula. Craziest bastard pictured in the post.

We’re a little bit insane. Who isn’t, right?

Maybe we’re a little bit madder than most. Moving right along.

As we work on branding and defining ourselves, our company, and our beer, we think about lots of stuff and go through many different exercises. Write down 25 words that define you. Look at 6-pack carriers. “Market research”.

Last night we met with Josh again, and he had a great idea: write down a list of people from history who were crazy. What made them crazy? Why do we remember them? Were they just nuts, or clinically nuts? (Note: “nuts” is not a clinical term.)

While were exploring the history books, I thought I’d ask you, dear follower. Who are some of the craziest bastards from history? What made them so crazy? Why do you remember them?

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This will all be a coherent thought in the end. Trust me. I want to discuss a few things about beer and history involving geography, weather, nutrition, division of labor and feminism. Although I should probably go way back to the first millennia B.C.E., I’m going to concentrate on early Renaissance to the beginning of Early Modern Europe.

Female Brewster (its hard to find images of this..)

Female Brewster (it's hard to find images of this..)


Why does one think of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, England, etc., when it comes to beer, whereas France and Italy are the wine countries? Just like real estate, it’s all location, location, location. The main ingredients for beer (water, grains of some sort, hops and yeast) grow well in the northern climates. Thus, beer and its various siblings and cousins (such as mead, ale, etc.) was created, crafted and perfected in these locales. However, apart from the materials being readily available, there was another reason why beer was so important in these northern countries.


Beer’s grain ingredients keep fresh long past their harvest date, whereas other alcoholic beverage ingredients don’t (think grapes without refrigeration). It is possible to harvest all of the grains for beer when ready and keep them stored without any special materials (salt or cold) as long as you keep them away from scavenger rodents. Hops on the other hand can go stale, but if they are going stale, you can use more. For our historical discussion, let’s remember that the brewers were not entered in Craft Beer Week. Therefore, it is possible to make beer all winter long.


Most of all, beer was used as nutritional fortification. Today, many pansy drinkers complain about calorie intake when drinking beer, which was one of the original purposes behind the drink. To survive cold winters in northern Europe, calories were key and when a surplus of food was rarely available, beer was a crucial staple in the local diet.

And here’s where this whole thing gets really cool…

Division of Labor and Feminism

Traditionally, men were the brewers in medieval England. However, for a 300 year stretch beginning in late medieval England, women took over the brewster role. The reason behind this change had to do with time management. It was easier for a woman to brew beer while conducting her other daily tasks, such as rearing children, which allowed men to leave the home for manual labor jobs. Women also created ways to trade off tasks with friends and neighbors to garner relief from the work load. Households would congregate and each household would trade-off brewing beer for the other households in the group so that one house didn’t have to constantly brew for themselves. Of course, some were better than others and this ensured a market for higher quality goods. This methodology created a scenario for guild formation and also regulations. However, by the 1600s, men had stolen the task of brewing back from women as technology and techniques became more advanced. At this point breweries for production on a larger scale started cropping up, which pushed women out of the limelight of beer creation.

Monks drinking beer

Monks drinking beer

As this brewery takes shape and hopefully flourishes from a household operation to mass production, it is easy to understand how time management affected the gender of the brewers in the late medieval/early Renaissance in England. I have heard many complaints on a week day that “I’d rather be brewing than sitting at work,” and hopefully with help from both genders, we’ll be able to make that happen.

If anyone is looking for more information, I learned about women brewsters in a class on Medieval families at Colorado College. I highly recommend reading this short, fascinating book:

Bennett, J. M. Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300 to 1600. (Oxford University Press, 1996).

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The IPA (India Pale Ale) is  one of  the most popular styles around today, and has been for a while. In our homebrew operation, it’s becoming one of the tastiest and most fun to make. We’re entering it into competitions (Cliché, yes, but it’s so tasty!). Our current recipe might even get converted for the brewery. Why all the hype? I believe it’s in the hops and the history. Let’s look at the history of the IPA, what makes it so different, and some great versions you can buy today.

East Indies Trading Company - Is that a keg in the water?

East Indies Trading Company - Is that a keg in the water?


A lot has been written on this topic, so I’ll just give a brief summary and a few good links.

Think about what you do when you buy a few bottles of beer, or even a keg. You drive to your favorite liquor store or brewery, open the refrigerated case in which the ale or lager you wish to consume rests, purchase the beer, drive it home in your temperature controlled automobile, and put it in another refrigerated container. (I realize this experience may differ for some readers, but this is generally the modus operandi for the beer consumer and connoisseur.)

Now think how the British transported the beer for their colonizing soldiers, from London to New Delhi or Mumbai. Even if the beer were refrigerated before hand – which I’m pretty sure they couldn’t do in the 18th and 19th century – the four month trip overseas, through and into tropical climates, tends to warm the temperature of the delicious liquid inside those wooden casks.

Anyone had a warm beer lately? How about a microwaved one? What about a beer left outside to fend for itself for a few months. Not as tasty as that one you just drove home from Main Street Liquors, is it.



The story goes that the October beer of George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery, and later, Burton Brewers’s India Pale Ale, were some of the first to brew differently to overcome the adverse affects of a long overseas journey. They did this by using more hops, and using them at different times, as well as increasing the alcohol content.

Hops are very, very resistant to the kinds of bacteria you don’t want in your beer. They also pack a punch in the form of flavor and aroma, masking a lot of unpleasantness that might be resting in the beer. By adding more hops throughout the boil, and adding hops after the boil, these innovative brewers increased the flavor and resilience of their beer.

Also, increased alcohol by volume makes a very unpleasant living environment for some brew-ruining bacteria; the brewers achieved this by increasing the amount of sugar the yeast could nibble on.

So the ale made it to India. Mind you, a lot of other styles made it as well. But this one was extra resilient. A porter survives quite well. The IPA was just designed for it. Anyway, the IPA arrives in India, and the British soldiers tap the keg and taste the results. Lo and behold, it not only survived the trip, but it’s also delicious!

BeerAdvocate states that

Historians believe that an IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savor the beer at full strength.

A more detailed history can be found in a nice article written by Thom Tomlison, as well as on Wikipedia. But that’s the basic story.


The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) has a full category for IPAs (Category 14), with three subcategories: 14A English IPA, 14B American IPA, and 14C Imperial IPA.

The English IPA is a little lighter in color, body, and alcohol content than the other varieties. The BJCP sums it up:

A hoppy, moderately strong pale ale that features characteristics consistent with the use of English malt, hops and yeast.

The American version steps up the color and alcohol by a little bit. Not a lot. Just a few points here and there. I think the casual beer drinking would be hard pressed to taste the difference between the American and English varieties.

The Imperial IPA. The name deserves its own sentence. This version of the India Pale Ale is a little darker and whole lot stronger than the other two categories. The ABV ranges for the English, American, and Imperial IPAs are, respectively, 5 – 7.5%, 5.5 – 7.5%, and 7.5 – 10%. That’s right. The lower end of the Imperial IPA is the upper end of the other versions. It’s a beast of a beer. Defined:

An intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale without the big maltiness and/or deeper malt flavors of an American barleywine. Strongly hopped, but clean, lacking harshness, and a tribute to historical IPAs. Drinkability is an important characteristic; this should not be a heavy, sipping beer. It should also not have much residual sweetness or a heavy character grain profile.

If you couldn’t tell by my tone, I enjoy this style. 14c. It’s good stuff.


I wanted to write about the volume sold of IPA compared to other styles, and the increase in sales over recent years. However, I was unable to find specific information and numbers on the sales of craft beer styles.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - One of my favorites

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - One of my favorites


Just a few beers you might have heard of that I personally believe do the style very, very well. I have a few favorite breweries, which will show themselves by my listings, so feel free to add your favorites in the comments. I’ll try them as soon as I can.

  • English IPA
    • Long Trail Traditional IPA – Long Trail Brewing Company – Bridgewater Corners, Vermont
    • Apparently I need to try more English IPAs
  • American IPA
    • Harpoon IPA – Harpoon Brewery – Boston, Massachusetts
    • Inversion IPA – Deschutes Brewery – Bend, Oregon
    • Snake Dog IPA – Flying Dog Brewery – Fredrick, Maryland (formerly Denver)
    • Snake River IPA – Snake River Brewing Company – Jackson, Wyoming
    • Stone IPA – Stone Brewing Company – Escondido, California
    • Titan IPA – Great Divide Brewing Company – Denver, Colorado
  • Imperial IPA / Double IPA
    • 90 Minute IPA – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – Milton, Delaware
    • 120 Minute IPA – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – Milton, Delaware
    • Pliny The Younger – Russian River Brewing Company – Santa Rosa, California

And soon to be added to the list, our IPA. You’ll love it. I swear.

Any questions? Tell me your favorite styles and I’ll write about them too.

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St. Patrick banishing the snakesIn honor of one of the greatest drinking holidays of all, PJ has invited me to write about festivities during which we raise way more than one glass. On the few days each year that I see more than the usual amounts of people stuffing into bars, often dressed similarly and typically drinking up an expensive bar tap, I wonder whether people know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Therefore, I’ve compiled a triumvirate of drinking holidays and a bit o’ history.
St. Patrick’s claim to fame has to do with ridding Ireland of snakes, and thus he is logicially the patron saint of ophidophobics (those with a fear of snakes), but what does that have to do with overindulging in green beer? Also, let’s remember that St. Patty’s Day occurs during Lent, which is when Roman Catholics are really supposed to be abstaining from the fun stuff. Interestingly enough, on the rare occasion that St. Patrick’s Day is during Holy Week, the Church just ups and moves his feast day to the next available day. The reason why people drink on St. Patrick’s Day is to celebrate being Irish and thus consuming all things Irish, like Guinness and Jameson.

The Battle of Puebla

The Battle of Puebla

Anyone who can tell me what Cinqo de Mayo is in honor of gets a high five. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? To me, this drinker’s holiday is even more outrageous because the day commemorates Mexican forces’ defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, but only very few people in Mexico celebrate the holiday and not nearly to the degree as those of us to the north. The celebrations outside of Mexico pay homage to Mexican pride, and hence Mexican alcohol is typically the drink of choice.
I thought I was going to find that Oktoberfest was all about beer, but the first holiday was really just a super long wedding reception in honor of the nuptuals between Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1818. Yet, today it has the distinction of being one of, if not the, most important beer holidays and is 17 or 18 days long, depending on the year. To celebrate Oktoberfest in the best fashion, one must make the pilgrimage to Munich, where the Big Six (Lowenbrau, Hofbrau, Augustiner, Spaten, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr) supply the beer and 6.2 million people are there to drink it.

Oktoberfest (Giovanna chose this photo, not me)

Oktoberfest (Giovanna chose this photo, for anyone curious... It wasn't PJ)

Although this post seems like an exercise in pursuit of trivial knowledge, I want to encourage all you revelers to know your roots. One reason behind creating a beverage that will be enjoyed and desired is to put something in your hands which is worthy of a toast to pay tribute to whichever historical holiday feeds your fancy. Cheers to whichever saint, national pride or marriage you support and if you think just any old day isn’t a holiday, I’m sure we can find some historical event worth cheersing.

May your home always be too small to fit all your friends.

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A little background…

I’m going to start a brewery. Soon.

That’s pretty much it.

Ok there’s more. Let’s do a quick recap. Senior year of college, some friends of mine started making beer. They were chem majors, which was a nice touch. A few batches in, I joined the fun. Over the next 18 months or so, we got better at making beer, bought more equipment, stepped it up from extract to partial-mash, and really started pumping out the beer. At one point the three of us were doing 2-4 batches a month. Dead Bunny Brewery - Pulled Pin Porter We generally had about 3 styles of beer, 30-50 bottles each, sitting around waiting for a friend to drink them. We started labeling the  beer under “Dead Bunny Brewery”. Pulled Pin Porter was one of my favorite names.

And it was good.

Fast forward another year (of non-brewing.. sad face) and I move to Denver. This is May, 2008. I start brewing again. One of my friends had all the equipment, so I grabbed my share and did my first all-grain full-mash batch.

For the uninitiated, there are three basic levels of the home brew. There’s the extract, the partial-mash, and the full-mash / all-grain. Extract brewing is by far the easiest and most consistent, but is very limited. You essentially take some malt extract (molasses-esque stuff) in a can, boil it in some water, maybe add some hops or other flavors, add yeast, let it sit for a few weeks, bottle it, wait some more, drink it. It’s awesome, the house smells great while you’re cooking, and start to finish (before all that waiting) is at most 2 hours.

Partial mash is more like making tea. It’s a lot like extract brewing, except while the water is heating up to boil, you steep a bag of grains in the soon-to-be beer. This converts a few starches to sugars, but mainly just grabs some color and flavor. In the end, the meat of the beer is from the extract. And yes, I just said meat and beer in the same sentence. This will be a theme.

All grain brewing is another beast unto itself. This style is extremely similar to how commercial breweries do their thing. The main difference is volume. Most homebrewers brew 5 gallon batches. Commercial brewers talk about their batches in barrels (bbl). A barrel is 31 gallons. It sounds arbitrary, but that’s how the government taxes them, so all things are measured this way. I think the federal tax is $7 / barrel or something.

Anyway, back to all grain. This process is lengthy. You take some grains, between 10-20 pounds, usually, and mill it nice and fine. Then you put the grains in a bag – much like a cheesecloth material – and let the grains sit in hot water for an hour or so. This is called Mashing. You then drain the liquid (called wort), run some more water through the grains, and take what you have and boil it. So far we’re at almost 2 hours of work, and the boil hasn’t even started yet. You boil the wort, add hops, cool it down, add yeast, and then follow the usual timeline (wait, bottle, wait, drink). I’ll write a full “how-to” at some point. But trust me, it’s lengthy. Our last batch took close to 10 hours, start to finish.

Alright back from the tangent. Our beer turns out really well. Like, really really frickin’ good. All the time. Knock on wood. Some friends and I get to talking, get to drinking, get to talking and drinking, and lo and behold, we decide it’s time to open our own brewery. This had always been a plan for me, but now (let’s call it August), it was the plan.

And thus begins the epic adventure of trying to start an extremely expensive start-up during a recession. Who’s excited? I know I am.

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