Tag: history

Black, Light

My high school drama teacher loved Goethe (whose didn’t?) and so I avoided both of them. I didn’t know Young Werter was a beer snob. He got sick in law school and recovered, the story goes, with Schwarzbier. Tipsy and atrophied, he became a writer instead. Some bottles of Köstritzer have a picture of him on the label, pensive, opulently hatted, sudsy glass Photoshopped into his hand.

Follow his example: Drink black lager. I picked the best in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

The Blend Is Near

Nothing is sacred, not even beer. Prove it: order a pint of the latest over-hopped, over-hyped IPA, down half, and top it off with a simple pale. See? It gets better.

I wrote about mixing beer in this month’s GQ, but it’s been going on for ages. In eighteenth-century England, savvy drinkers ordered half-and-halfs or three threads: old, stale beer livened up with some fresh from the brewery. (Porter started out as one of these mixes.) Flemish brewers carbonate their gueuze the same way, adding a bit of new beer to a flat batch of sour lambic to wake up the old yeast. Beer aged in barrels is almost always blended because each cask ferments a little differently. When a smoked beer by Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company lost its edge after sitting too long in a rum barrel, they made an extra-smoky batch to mix it with. Germans—lest you think them Reinheitsgebot-thumping purists—mix their beers with Coke and banana nectar.

Beer cocktails are getting common, but beer blends are still underground. “We hide our blends on the other side of the menu,” Avery’s taproom manager Phil Vaughn says. “Not recommended, but not discouraged,” according to North Coast’s vice president Doug Moody. “Don’t tell the brewers,” warns an anonymous source at Cleveland’s Great Lakes. Fine, we get it: Craft beer is perfect straight up, but a little alchemy can go a long way.

Some blends to try:

Belgian Strong Golden + Pilsner
Wheat + Scotch Ale (or just Scotch)
IPA + English Pale Ale
Russian Stout + Pale Ale
Saison + Mescal
IPA + Rye Whiskey
Wheat + Lemonade
Brown Ale + Port
IPA + Espresso (We learned about this at Founders in Grand Rapids, where our Midwestern favorite MadCap Coffee made just such a blend.)

Molto Birra


Italian beer can be great, but not always. We tried a lot of bottles when I was working on this article, and they were all interesting, and expensive, but we found a few duds. Some had gone a little sour. Some were old. Inconsistency is expected with such a small industry. The biggest Italian craft brewery, Baladin, is 1/15th the size of Dogfish Head, and Dogfish Head isn’t even that big.

But beer is booming there — Italy had 65 breweries in 2000. Today there are 279. That’s not as explosive as the biggest spike in American craft breweries (200 opened between 1993 and 1994) but it’s something. Both booms produced some sub-par beer, but the difference with Italy is range. A flooded market forced American craft brewers to specialize; Italian brewers are making weird stuff right out of the gate.

I asked Sam Calagione what it was like collaborating at the new Eataly brewery with Teo and Leo, the brewers at Baladin and Birra del Borgo, guys who brew with stuff like kamut, myrrh, and ginger.

“We picked fresh thyme in the hills behind Leo’s brewery, threw it in the brew kettle. I put a jalopy brewery in my truck and drove up to Boston, met the guys at a nondescript warehouse, and fired up some test batches. It all happened in person, over pasta and good beer. Teo doesn’t even use email.”

Leo does. He wrote to me that brewing with Sam went like this: “When I was brewing with Sam I was telling to Sam the idea and Sam went crazy for that!” That’s about how it works in our house, too.