I sat down last night with Eric Lemus and Eddie Sarrine, co-founders of Pontoon Brewing, for a chat about their beers. They have not only a joint work history but also a history of home brewing. Once again combining their efforts, they decided to go into business following their shared passion of beer.

Pontoon Brewing is beginning life—as did two of its Atlanta-based predecessors (Monday Night Brewing and O’Dempsey’s)—as a contract brewery. They currently contract brew with Thomas Creek Brewery in Greeneville, SC, the brewery that initially brewed Monday Night’s beers. Pontoon hopes one day to expand operations into their own brick-and-mortar brewery, similar to Monday Night’s transition. In a few weeks they will premiere two beers in the Atlanta market: Southern Skipper White IPA and No Pants Pilsner.

The Southern Skipper pours a red-gold and has a moderate hop nose. There is good balance between the hops and the malt. The hop bite is lower than a lot of IPAs, but this beer is noticeably smooth. I think it will be a fine beer to pair with food.

I figured the Southern Skipper would be my hands-down favorite, since I’m not a pilsner fan. However, Eddie got my attention when he started to describe how they developed No Pants. Although pilsner-like, it’s not technically a lager—or even lagered (matured in cold storage). The Pontoon brewers take traditional German / Bohemian ingredients commonly used in pilsner brewing and employ a hybrid yeast that can ferment with lager-like results at warmer temperatures.

This isn’t highly unusual, as the beer style “California Common” is fermented with this type of yeast. However, the California style beer typically uses a more ale-like combination of hops and malt. The No Pants Pilsner is closer to an older version of “steam beer” known as schenk.

Schenk was a “lager” that was first produced in America by German immigrants in the eastern United States in the 1800s. When lagering cellars were hard to come by and/or heat was an issue (such as in the southern U.S.), this quickly-produced beer was sold for lager. Very likely it would have followed the recipe for a Bohemian or similar style pilsner and used hybrid yeast.

Eric and Eddie went through a similar process trying to perfect this recipe on their homebrew system in the Atlanta heat. Inadvertently, they were recreating the brewing techniques of Atlanta’s first breweries. Needless to say, I was excited to try it after we talked about early American brewing styles. No Pants does have the light, clean body of a pilsner but with a more pronounced sweet malt flavor, still lighter than typical ale. The end of the taste is sharp—very lager-like in nature. I envision German immigrants far away from home being excited by this beer.

I’m shocked to say the No Pants Pilsner is my favorite of the two. Maybe I’m too “historically-minded” in my choice? Who knows; a lot depends on context. What I can tell you is that both beers are worth picking up when they hit your local package store.



As I sit here enjoying a Beard Envy by Atlanta Brewing Company AKA Red Brick Brewing (Atlanta’s oldest contemporary brewery), my mind wanders back to Atlanta’s beer history. A German social group comes to mind, the Atlanta Turn Verein, known for their gymnastics, beer drinking and helping German immigrants integrate into Atlanta society. Their slogan was “Gut Heil” meaning “Good Health” and their “4F’s”—Frisch, From, Froh and Frei (Fresh, free, happy, pious) was the Turn Verein credo to health and wealth.

All this sounds very foreign to the modern American and/or Atlanta ear; however, before WWI the German language was commonly spoken in old Atlanta. Of course beer drinking and German history go together, so pop a cap, tab, or pour a draught and let me tell you a bit about the Atlanta Turn Verein.

The Turn Verein, Turn Verein, or Turnverein (pronounced “TOORN-fair-ine”) is a German-American gymnastic club. In the early 1800s, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn started a gymnastic movement in Germany which was not only athletic but also political in nature. The members of the organization were called “Turners.”

In the United States, the fraternity was more focused on physical fitness and helping German immigrants integrate into American society, and to a varying extent American public education and labor policies. The Turners successfully lobbied school boards in many cities for the inclusion of physical education classes in the curriculum.

In Atlanta’s history, most of the German-American brewers, beverage wholesalers, and saloonists belonged to the Atlanta Turn Verein and/or other German-American social societies in the City of Atlanta (The Concordia Association, German Ladies Aid Society, and the Freundschaftsbund Society among others). The Atlanta Turn Verein was organized in March 1873 and commonly held dances, concerts, and elaborate dinners. In 1896, the Atlanta chapter had ninety members. The Turn Verein is the owner on record of a plot at Oakland Cemetery, shown in the photograph.

Like other German-American organizations, the United States Turners were the subject of suspicion and discrimination during World War I and, to smaller extent, World War II. After the wars, the Turners in many areas of America faded away due to cultural assimilation. The same may have happened to the Atlanta Turn Verein. The last reference to their society in Atlanta historic newspapers appears in April 1917 days from the United States entering World War I.

However, the American Turners still exist in many areas of the United States: California, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin.(http://www.americanturners.com/Home).


Atlanta Illustrated by Edward Young Clarke, Atlanta, GA: J.P. Harrison & Co, 1881.
Atlanta Turn Verein to Commemorate Quarter Century Birthday”, Atlanta Constitution, March 20, 1896, page 6.

Brewers in the Atlanta area are producing some tasty beer. 2013
was a great year for us to visit breweries while researching the local history of the industry. Atlanta has come a long way in the past ten years when it comes to producing memorable beers. We expect 2014 to be even better! 

Below we list our favorite local beers of 2013. Of course, this list reflects our tastes and exposure to various brews throughout the year. The beers are presented in no particular order.
3 Taverns Craft Beers, Decatur, GA: Feest Noel
Belgian-style strong dark ale brewed with Christmas spices. The Belgian dark candy sugar and spices are bold and upfront in this tasty winter brew. Ron was lucky enough to taste this one right out of the brewery’s fermentation tank. He drinks it whenever possible.
Burnt Hickory Brewing, Kennesaw, GA: Noggin Knocker
How can you go wrong with a rum barrel-aged, eggnog milk stout! Thank goodness it doesn’t contain actual eggnog, though one never knows with the mad men of brewing. Regardless, the rum, vanilla, and spiced creaminess are simply delicious in this special release beer.

5 Seasons Brewing Company (Westside), Atlanta, GA: Lobster Beer (bottle conditioned)
 Second only to its predecessor “cinq saison,” this saison / farmhouse style ale is a marvelous spiced semi-sweet and refreshing beer. Occasionally it is found on tap; however, this beer is better bottle conditioned. Bottle conditioning gives the beer a drier finish and a slightly crisper palate. Crawford Moran, co-owner and brewmaster at 5 Seasons Westside, is a genius at brewing this style.

Jekyll Brewing, Alpharetta, GA: Hop Dang Diggity
Big-time hopheads may argue that this American India Pale Ale (IPA) simply isn’t hoppy enough. A tooth enamel eraser it isn’t, but it is an excellent session IPA. With an awesome citrus-pine resinous nose and a clean and fresh hop-malt balance, this beer is an excellent drinking IPA. Without a doubt, this beer is one of the best IPAs in the Greater Atlanta Area.

Jailhouse Brewing Company & Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill and Brewery: Partners in Crime Berliner Weisse
Technically, this was a 2012 brew. However, Ron consumed this beer in 2013 after it cellared in bottles for at least six months. A fantastically complex sour wheat ale, this beer resulted from a collaboration between Jailhouse Brewing Company and John “JR” Roberts of Max Lager’s. This tart and refreshing Berliner Weisse  is accented and somewhat mellowed by the addition of peaches. One of the best  beers of this style tasted in a long time!
Red Brick Brewing Company (Atlanta Brewing Company): Brick Mason Series #5 “The Lost Years” and Brick Mason Series #7 “20th Anniversary Ale”
The Lost Years (#5) is an American Strong Ale brewed with spices and aged in a Jim Beam Bourbon barrel. This beer is a marvelous dark amber that picks up deep toffee and oak flavors from the bourbon-barrel aging. The 20th Anniversary Ale (#7) is an American imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels. The robust and chocolaty stout is balanced out by the sweeter notes imparted by the bourbon-infused barrels. Both of these beers prove the adeptness of Red Brick Brewing Company in producing excellent barrel-aged beer.

Wrecking Bar Brewpub: Mexican Siberius Maximus
Wow! What a distinctive beer. This barrel-aged Russian imperial stout is infused with smoked serrano and chipotle morita peppers, cinnamon bark, toasted cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans (excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin). This beer is available the 5th of every month during the brewpub's Cinco de Siberius event. One of Ron’s favorite beers of all time!

5 Seasons Brewing Company (Westside), Atlanta, GA: Elmer’s Gluten Free
Mary is happy to be able to mention a gluten-free beer that is
locally produced and, wait for it, on draft! In a world where most gluten-free beer is better left unconsumed, 5 Seasons Westside has come to the rescue. Continuously on tap is a highly drinkable g-f beer that is also visually appealing (unlike your typical watered-down, filtered sorghum beer). Thank you, Crawford.
There is a lot of focus on hops in American beer these days. American made India Pale Ales (IPAs) are all the rage. Many variants of the American IPA style are popping up: black IPAs, rye IPAs, fruit IPAs, even wild yeast fermented IPAs. Hops are used to provide not only bitterness, offsetting the malt sweetness in beer, but also aroma and other distinct flavors—such as spicy, herbal, or citrus (check out the post in January 2011 for more

Hop farmers have to be rejoicing over America’s continuing hop love.  Currently, the majority of American hops is grown in the Pacific Northwest (1). However, at one point in history the U.S.’s East Coast was the top hop-producing area--specifically, New York.

James Coolidge is given credit for bringing the first hop vines to New York from the New England area (2).  After giving some to his neighbors and everyone sharing further, hops began spreading across the state like the pernicious weed it was supposedly thought to be in English history.  Almost every farmstead had a few acres of hops, and what was a cottage industry grew to a regional business in the early 1800s. By 1830, a five-county region had become New York’s “Hop Belt.” Hops became the first cash crop of this region.

New York had attained national leadership in hop production in 1848, and by 1855 the region was annually producing three million pounds of green gold. Local hop growers would hire pickers during late August and early September. Many of these
laborers were transported from cities; feeding and housing these transient workers boosted the local economy (3). Bales of hops crowded ships as they flowed down regional canals while in transit to breweries worldwide.

Unfortunately, a series of disasters crushed this local economy. In 1909, the crop was infected with downey mildew.  This was
followed by an infestation of aphids in 1914. The final nail in the coffin for the industry was Prohibition. Meager attempts were made after Prohibition to resurrect hop farms in New York, but the last crop of hops was dried in 1953.

A few local historians and enthusiasts kept the regional hop knowledge alive over the years. In 1983, a study was conducted to identify and evaluate hop-drying houses (called kilns) in central New York. Madison County honors the industry’s past with a historical society hop exhibit, an annual hop fest and a “hop heritage trail” (4).

With the growing interest in craft beer, New York is once again growing hops--along with many other eastern states, including those typically considered too hot for hop production. Attempts are now being made to grow hops in areas as far south as Tennessee and North Georgia.

     (2)   http://historystarproductions.com/blog/bouckville
     (3)   http://www.upstatechunk.com/beer/hops/nyhistory.htm
     (4)   http://www.madisontourism.com/trail_hop.pdf
Did you know that in 1885 Atlanta had 118 saloons in the city doing $2 million of business annually? Ever heard of Rusty Row or Snake Nation? What local business is the oldest contemporary brewery? What role did the delicatessen play in Atlanta’s history?  These and many more questions are answered in Atlanta Beer

After a year-long labor of love, Mary and I are excited to announce the forthcoming release of our book. Atlanta Beer follows the journey of beer and brewing from colonial Georgia through present-day Atlanta with a historical perspective that is different from other writings to date. The American Civil War threatened Atlanta’s existence and Prohibition threatened access to alcoholic beverages. The ability of the city’s residents and breweries to adapt to these challenges is a crucial component in the city’s evolution. We hope that the stories told from our compilation of research and interviews are of interest to breweriana collectors and history buffs, aside from the obvious appeal to beer geeks. 

Not all of the information gathered from those involved in the local beer scene was able to be incorporated in the book, scheduled for release September 2013. We plan to share additional stories, interviews and photographs in this blog.

To keep up with the latest on Atlanta Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Hub of the South, please visit AtlantaBeerBook.com.
Will Strawn and Doug Evans can be found most afternoons at the Strawn Brewing Company. Hard-working men at their day jobs, they work equally hard at the self-built and operated brewery located in Fairburn, Georgia. Located in a portion of a former ice factory, Strawn Brewing Company is Fairburn’s first brewery and one of the newest additions to the Greater Atlanta Area’s brewing scene.
Like an earlier iconic Georgia brewery (Marthasville), Strawn
Brewery is made from repurposed food-grade stainless steel equipment. Sourcing equipment from the dairy, soup and toothpaste manufacturing industries, Strawn Brewing has managed to keep its opening costs low, allowing for future expansion.  

Conical Fermenters at the Strawn Brewing Company, Fairburn, GA

Opening on Labor Day weekend 2012, the working men began brewing beer that would be distributed across Georgia. The current offerings include three beers: Wheat Ale, Scottish Ale and Amber Ale. Will Strawn reports that the Amber Ale is 10 to 1 the best selling beer from the brewery. Patagonia Malt gives the Amber brew a slight smoky-caramel flavor that is balanced by the hops. A hint of banana is imparted by the yeast, giving the overall beer a unique and refreshing flavor for an amber ale.

Strawn maintains the average alcohol by volume (ABV) between 4 and 6% to create easy-drinking session beers. Their soon-to-be-released India Pale Ale (IPA) will be a break from this trend with a slightly higher ABV.

Strawn Brewing Company has tours and tastings every Saturday from 1 to 4pm. The brewery is located at 27 Word Street, Fairburn, GA 30213. Click to visit Strawn's  website.
Doug Evans and Will Strawn of Strawn Brewing Company (top left)

Strawn's signature open end wrench taps (top right)

“This beer has gone bad.” I wonder how many times a brewer or seller of wild ales has heard this statement? Countless, I would assume. Sour—for all its universal food and drink applications—does not seem to be a flavor people in the Americas associate with beer. What would pass for an ancient Sumerian drink, ale from the 1400s, and an American pilsner are three vastly different beers that have little in common, beyond grain and water.

In the European Middle Ages, women made small batches of ale by steeping crushed barley in heated water. Herbs and/or fruit were often added to this concoction to counteract harshness of the tannins and base flavor of the grain. This ale is now known as Gruit Ale or “herbed ale”.

Fermentation, considered a gift from God, was a mystery to the population during this period (one of many reasons that religious references are still found associated with beer today). So, how did fermentation happen if they didn’t know how it occurred? The answer is in the prevailing natural conditions of these early households and breweries. Wild yeast is present in most settings, even today. Modern breweries have to take precautions to avoid the introduction of wild yeast strains and bacteria that will compete with the domesticated yeast strain that they use (Saccharomyces). The early brewer had no knowledge of this microbiology, just that the barley liquid (wort) would ferment if left alone under the right conditions. Wild yeast (Brettanomyces and Kloeckera) were in the air of the historic building and on the ingredients of the early brew itself. Pediococcus, Lactobacillus and other bacteria were also present and ended up partially fermenting the ale.

Historical records show that the ale “soured quickly”. Without modern sanitation and refrigeration, ale in the Middle Ages had a short lifespan of around 17 days. Early ale continuously fermented throughout its short lifespan; this continuous fermentation continually changed its taste profile. The common folk of this era were used to drinking ale with varying levels of acidity, due to the aforementioned yeast and bacteria. Often, the older beer was blended with younger beer to balance the taste and the acidity.

The origins of modern “sour ales” or “wild ales” were born in these conditions. They are the direct descendants of earlier brewing traditions that did not include industrial processes like rigidly controlled yeast strains and pasteurization of the beer. Nowhere is this tradition stronger than the geopolitical crossroads of Europe: Belgium.  Starting with the Belgian motherland, let us track these wild ales through the lands where they roam.


Lambic (lom – BEEK) beer has changed little in its 500 year lifespan in the rural region of Pajottenland (West of Brussels, Belgium). It could be considered the grandmother of all modern sour beer. The last major change to Lambic occurred centuries ago with the addition of dried hops as a natural preservative. Pure (unblended) Lambic is a dry, vinous, and pungently sour unfiltered ale with little to no carbonation. Gueuze (GURZ-ah, GURZ, and many other regional pronunciation and spelling variations) is a blend of young Lambic, matured around 1 year in wooden barrels, and old Lambic, mature three years and longer. Secondary fermentation in a bottle, historically done in Champagne bottles, gives Gueuze carbonation and a smoother, more balanced flavor than pure Lambic. Gueuze is light blonde to amber colored ale that is semi-dry, acidic, cidery, and sometimes musty flavored.

A Gueuze that undergoes secondary fermentation with whole sour cherries is called a Kriek (pronounced “Creek”) beer. Other versions of Lambic also exist, such as Mars (a lower alcohol version made from a second rinse of the grains) and Faro (a lower alcohol version to which some form of dark sugar is added). Lambic and its various offspring have many layers of flavor—not just sour—deriving from the complex and lengthy fermentation and maturation processes. Some modern mainstream versions of “Lambic” are sweetened with various processed fruit syrups, processed quickly, and have little to no historical similarity to actual Lambic beer.
In the northwest region of Belgium, or West Flanders, an historic sour red ale is made. This ale is known by several names: Flanders Red Ale, Flemish Red Ale, or Flemish Sour Ale. It is a deep burgundy-colored ale that is typically not as sour as its cousin, the Lambic. This beer has red wine / red vinegar like qualities and high levels of carbonation. Often called the “Burgundy of Belgium”, it is more wine-like than any other style of beer. History suggests this style of ale developed from an early Porter-like beer and the West Flanders wild yeast and bacteria made it unique.

Flanders Red Ales have a similar development process to Lambic beers; fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria, they are barrel aged and often blended to achieve a balanced flavor.  These ales are very complex with tastes that range across oak, vanilla, plum, cherry, currant, raisin, red vinegar, steak sauce, and tart citrus. A darker version of Flanders Red Ale called Old Bruin (Brown) or Flanders Brown is also produced. Often Flanders Brown is not barrel aged, has a more pronounced malt flavor, and is typically not as sour as a Flanders Red Ale.

Other Belgian beer styles may have wild yeast and/or bacteria present, however, their flavor profiles are created mainly by the larger amounts of cultured yeast (Saccharomyces) that are present. Such styles include Saison, Biere de Garde, and Witbier.


Gose (GOSE-uh) is a sour German beer from the North-Central German town of Goslar and the style is rumored to be at least 1,000 years old. Although hugely popular in the town of Leipzig in the 1800s, the style almost vanished in the early-to-mid 20th Century. Gose was originally a spontaneously fermented (wild yeast and bacteria) beer made using barley and unmalted wheat, sometimes including oats, with added coriander and salt. The ale was delivered still fermenting in barrels to pubs, where the owners would put the Gose into characteristic long necked bottles. The yeast would rise to the top of the slender neck of the bottle, causing a natural yeast plug (Flor) to seal the beer. Like many modern wild ales, the modern version of this beer is inoculated with the selected combination of domesticated yeast, wild yeast, and bacteria. Currently only a handful of breweries produce Gose.

Berliner Weissbier is a Northern German (mostly Berlin) wheat beer that dates back to the 16th Century. Although the current version is brewed with domesticated yeast, Lactobacillus is added and gives the beer a tart acetic acid finish. This beer is light yellow to golden in color with quickly fading head and low alcohol content (2 to 5% ABV).

United States

American Wild Ales: Often Belgian inspired, these American made beers are partially fermented with wild yeast and/or bacteria, either by an inoculated wooden barrel, a combination of domesticated and wild yeast/bacteria being pitched in the unfermented liquid (wort), or by using soured grain. The basic beer recipe (grain bill) that makes up the loose category of “American Wild Ales” can vary greatly, producing tart “porters”, Flemish Red-like ales, sour golden ales, and any variety that imagination can provide.
Commercial varieties of American Wild Ales grew from American homebrewers experimenting with Belgian-style Lambic and other Belgian or German sour beer recipes. Breweries like Jolly Pumpkin, Russian River, New Belgium, The Lost Abbey, Ommegang, and many more began offering wild ales not as side project beers, but as mainstays in their lineup.

Personal Notes

The first wild ale I ever tasted was also the first Flanders Red Ale I drank; it was Vichtenaarfrom Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, Belgium. I remember being stunned by the complexity of the beer, the high (Champagne-like) levels of carbonation, and the unique sour-sweet taste profile. Vichtenaar was followed by Duchesse De Bourgogne, a blended Flanders Red Ale, also by the Verhaeghe Brewery. “The Duchess” is still one of my all-time favorite beers. I worked my way through this beer style, growing an appreciation for Rodenbach beers (Brouwerij Rodenbach, Roeselare, Belgium), considered central examples of Flanders Red Ale. The first American commercial example of a Flemish-style Red Ale I  tasted several years ago was an earlier batch of La Folie by New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. La Folie is indistinguishable from a Flemish-made Flanders Red Ale and is far from being mere folly (folie).

Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York, has produced two versions of Flanders Red Ale (some say Old Bruin): Ommegang Rouge (2008), a collaboration with Brouwerij Bockor N.V. in Bellegem-Kortrijk, Belgium,and Ommegang Zuur (2010), a collaboration withBrouwerij Liefmans inOudenaarde, Belgium. Both were excellent but the Rouge was my favorite, being more dry and tart. Even Boston Brewing Company (Samuel Adams) produces a Flanders Red Ale as part of their select Barrel Room Collection. The Stony Brook Red is a good solid beer, better than several other beers of this style that I have tried. I would love to see Unibroue in Chambly, Quebec, Canada produce wild ale some day, as all of their beers are both unique and well done in the Belgian style.

A few years after discovering Flanders Red Ale, I was fortunate to try La Roja by Jolly Pumpkin in Dexter, Michigan. Both the beer and the brewery have become hands-down favorites. Founded by Ron Jeffries in 2004, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales produces beer that is matured in wine barrels, Bourbon barrels, or any other barrel they can get hold of. Once the barrels have a living culture going, the beer takes on the flavors of the wild yeast, of bacteria, and of the wood. All of their beers are produced in this manner, making Jolly Pumpkin one of the most unique breweries in North America.

My first exposure to Berliner Weissbier was at The Map Room in Chicago, Illinois. I had a Weihenstephan & Doemens 1809 Berliner Weiss. This is the best Berliner Weissbier that I have had to date—a really tasty wheat beer with the tartness as an unexpected bonus. Bell’s Brewery’s Oarsman Ale is also a decent Berliner Weissbier, although lacking the complexity of the 1809 Berliner Weiss; Oarsman is often a session beer of mine.

The only brand of Gose I have ever tasted is Leipziger Gose by Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof in Leipzig, Germany. I first had this beer at The Porter Beer Bar in the Little Five Points area of Atlanta, GA with my friend Mike. We knew ahead of time it was a sour wheat beer similar to a Berliner Weissbier. What took us by surprise was the salt. This style has a distinct salty flavor, which is not unpleasant (sort of like the salt accent to potato chips). My mouth is watering just from the memory of this beer. Other brands of Gose are on my immediate “to do” list.

Good traditional Lambics and Gueuze are often cost restrictive. A lot of time, care, and resources go into these beers and they are expensive. Therefore, I often have Oude Boon Geuze from Brouwerij Boon, Lembeek, Belgium (yes, Lembeek…nudge, nudge, wink, wink… “Lambic”, Belgium). It ‘s 12 ounces of 100% wild fermented, barrel aged, and blended Lambic beer—a complex punky, funky, sour wave of goodness at less than $10 a bottle.

Call them Sour Beers, Wild Ales, Tart Beers, Mother Funk or whatever. The wild ones will whack you in the face and then kiss you with complexity. No apologies from these beers: You are on their turf (an ancient one at that). Don’t be afraid of descriptors like wet hay, barnyard, wet goat, musty, cheese, vinegar, sour apples, steak sauce, and so on. Let the beer warm up, sip it, and try it slowly. These beers are like sauerbraten, kimchi, funky cheeses, tart desserts and all the other dishes we were not sure about but fell in love with. They will dare you to try them and if you love these flavors, stalking them can become a wild ride.


Vienna Lager, Munich Dunkel Lager, Bohemian Pilsner, Bock, Kristalweizen, and Märzen are beer styles that typically bring up images of German Maβ (Masse) steins, lederhosen, and biergartens—not tacos, mariachi groups, mole, and green chilies.  However, all the styles listed above are brewed in Mexico and have been for hundreds of years.  

German immigrants began arriving in Mexico during the mid-to-late 1800s. They assimilated into the local culture and became generally known as Germano–Mexicano (1). These German immigrants also influenced the beer of the region. Many breweries were built in Mexico from the mid 19th to the early 20th century, all of them ultimately producing lager beer. The first Mexican lager brewery was established in 1845 in the town of La Pila Seca (2). Many of the early breweries were run by immigrants of German, Swiss, French, or other European descent.

Most of the early breweries were small local operations; however, in 1890 the Cuauhtémoc Brewery, the first sizable brewery, was opened in the city of Monterrey (3). This brewery is still in operation today under the name Cervecería Cuauhtémoc-Moctezuma as part of FEMSA (4), one of two large Mexican brewing conglomerates. Production includes German inspired beers such as Vienna Lager (Dos Equis), Kristalweizen (Bohemia Weizen), Märzen (Indio), and a seasonal Bock beer (Noche Buena) (5).

Prohibition in the United States during the period 1920-1933 gave beer production in Mexico a flood of beer-thirsty customers flocking across the border. Many new breweries and beer drinking establishments sprung up just across the United States–Mexico border to meet the demand (6).

In 1925, the Modelo Brewery was opened in Mexico City. This brewery would ultimately become the second largest Mexican brewing group, Grupo Modelo (7). Modelo Brewery produces the popular Munich Dunkel Lager (Negra Modelo) and a Vienna Lager (Victoria).

In present day, the effect of German immigrants is still evident in Mexican beer, music, and language. Societies for people of Germano–Mexicano descent are established in several cities, and every year they sponsor an Oktoberfest celebration (8).

Note: Most American consumers of Mexican lager beer are unaware of its origin. I was equally unaware of this history until recently asked to sample Victoria, a Vienna style lager, when its import to the U.S. began. My curiosity about how and why Mexico was brewing beer in the German lager style led to research into the “back story.”

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_immigration_to_Mexico
(2) http://www.mexinsider.com/history-of-mexican-beer.html
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuauht%C3%A9moc_Moctezuma_Brewery#Dos_Equis
(4) http://www.femsa.com/en
(5) http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/57
(6) http://www.mexicoonline.com/albums/photo/view/album_id/84/photo_id/2888
(7) http://www.gmodelo.com.mx
(8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oktoberfest_celebrations#Mexico

The Beer: Gaelic Ale
The Style: American Amber (5.8% ABV)
The Brewery: Highland Brewing Company, Asheville, NC

Notes:  Clear amber/copper ale with a light pearl-colored bubbly head. The nose consists of a clean malt scent with a mild hop note. A medium mouthfeel is followed by a bold but crisp caramel malt flavor and a long, dry hop finish. This beer is crisp and clean—a good balance between malt and hop levels.

Ron’s Personal Notes: This ale has many “lager-like” characteristics (clean, crisp, light malt flavor) and is easily approachable by someone who wants to branch out in a new direction. It’s a very sessionable beer and is one of Mary’s favorite casual drinking beers.

BeerGuruATL score:   3.5 out of 5 pints

It’s Happy Hour; do you know your lupulin levels? No, it is not a human physiological phenomenon—it’s hops. Most beer drinkers in the 21st century have heard the terms hops and/or hoppy.  Lupulin (loop-you-lin) is a fine-grained and resinous powder that comes from the cones of the hop vine (Humulus lupulus). This is also the compound that gives the hoppy flavor to beer.

The use of hops in beer did not become ubiquitous until nearly 1800 AD (1). For most of its lengthy history, beer was herbed to impart balance and contained no hops. Everyone who has tried gruit ale(2) knows by its absence the particular flavor lupulin imparts in a beer. Beer without gruit (herbs) or hops is a cloying malt bomb and overall a rather unpleasant drink.

Hops are used to provide not only bitterness, offsetting the malt sweetness in beer, but also aroma and other distinct flavors—such as spicy, herbal, or citrus (3). Hop bitterness levels within beer are measured by a system called International Bittering Units or IBUs (4).   Without getting too technical (read: boring), the IBU scale measures the dissolved alpha acid (bittering agent within the lupulin) content of a beer.  The quantity and quality of alpha acid in hop cones varies among hop vine varieties and is of great interest to those who make beer. To beer drinkers, the variety of hops used in brewing imparts different flavors to the finished beer. For example, Cascade or Centennial hops can impart a grapefruit flavor (5).

Hops have moved to the forefront of brewing in recent times, becoming a big star in the craft beer revolution. Hop terms like “hop head”—a person who likes dominant hop flavors in his beer—are more common in every day beer lingo. West coast American breweries such as Rogue Ales in Oregon and Stone Brewing Company in California specialize in hop-dominant beers. American India Pale Ales (IPAs), Double IPAs, and American Strong Ales have stronger hop profiles and many breweries continue to push the IBU limits in their beers.

Hoppy beers may not be popular with everyone but the harder to find hopless beers have definitely fallen out of favor. Although not apparent to the casual sipper, hops are an extremely important flavor component of nearly all styles of beer.