Roots of the craft

Author Stan Hieronymus’s “Brewing Local” takes craft beer back to pre-Prohibition

By Tom Morgan

Photo: Columbus brewery Jackie O’s opts for local Paw Paw wheat

New books by Stan Hieronymus are always a treat, as he is adept at discovering the story behind the subject matter and using it to draw in readers. The story in this book focuses on the history of American brewing prior to the growth of macro-lager Reinheitsgebot-esque beer culture in post-Prohibition America. This earlier history is important because it mirrors the history and growth of contemporary American craft brewing, specifically the interest in creating regionally distinct beers for a local drinking audience. Part of this lesser known history is that prior to Prohibition, there were more than 4,000 regional and local breweries spread across the United States. Today’s craft brewing boom only eclipsed that number in 2015. So in many ways, the past and the present of American brewing are not that different. In addition to a resurgence in local brewing, older beer styles are also making a comeback, as are the older ingredients reflected in that earlier brewing history. This book is thus equal parts early brewing history and current brewing practice; it combines the two to bring to life the brewing history animating craft brewing at this particular moment.

The first section of the book compares local beer then and now. It opens by examining terroir, the French term for the way the soil, climate, and landscape shapes the growth of grapes and the subsequent experience of wine, and using that term to think through the similar set of conditions influencing the production of beer. The cultivation and use of raw materials and resources—be it hops, barley, water, and even yeast—all impact the final product in our glass, so understanding the providence of those ingredients, be they imported or local, matters. As New Glarus President Deb Carey asserts, “Beer should come from a place, and it should be recognizable,” or as Chef Mark Davis argues, “Terroir is character. It is the triumph of diversity over homogeneity.” From here, Hieronymus turns backward to beer in colonial America, noting that “visitors from across the Atlantic often commented on the high quality of American beer during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, even when little was brewed using any malted grains, including corn.” Spruce tips, persimmons, and molasses were regularly used, as were pumpkins and corn.

This section also covers the rise of adjuncts like corn and rice in the latter half of the 19th century, as well as an examination of why 19th-century drinkers choose “lighter” beers over pure malt beers.

Thus, for example, we hear from Theodore Oehne, vice president of Conrad Seipp Brewing in Chicago, who testified before a Senate committee in 1899 that “our business has taught us in the last 10 or 12 years that a pure malt beer is almost unsalable in this country; it is too strong and heavy. The people want a lighter beer, and this light beer could not be produced by using pure malt … Pure malt beer is a strong, heavy beer.” Similarly, Robert Wahl, co-author with Max Henius of the classic “American Handy-Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades” (1902) and co-founder, again with Max Henius, of the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology, asserted in the American Brewers’ Review of 1908 that “the American brewer does not favor the production of pale beers because they can be more easily produced, but because the public demands them.” This has led to the blame placed on adjuncts for ruining American beer: “In the decades that followed the revival of Anchor Brewing in 1965, proponents of a new beer culture … made adjuncts, and corn in particular, a villain. It would be fair to call adjuncts accomplices, but they did not wring flavor out of beer on their own.” The actual agents bent on “wring[ing] flavor out of beer” undoubtedly took on human form.

The second section of the book focuses on contemporary attempts to re-embrace local ingredients, as well as the interest in learning once again to brew seasonally, via following local conditions and agricultural cycles. Thus, we learn of Fullsteam Brewery of North Carolina that forages for local persimmons to make their seasonal beer. Or even more interesting, Scratch Brewing, located in Ava, Illinois, that forages seasonally for many of the ingredients that go into their beers, including tree bark, leaves, and nuts. Finally, there are brewers like Michael Crane of Crane Brewing in Raytown Missouri or yeast wrangler Jeff Mello of Bootleg Biology that have taken to foraging for wild yeast to use in beers. Here, Hieronymus traces the way the past continues to resonate in the present. The third section of the book details these ingredients for those interested in brewing with them; it is, after all, a book interested in the brewing process, and it includes a selection of recipes directed mainly at home brewers, but also professional brewers interested in pushing themselves to embrace the local legacy of American brewing.

This interest in a return to the local is an important aspect of craft brewing, and Hieronymus’s book beautifully illustrates this history. It is manifested not only in brewing happening throughout Ohio, but specifically in the brewing taking place in Dayton, responding to local conditions and embracing local influence. Think of Warped Wing’s decision to collaborate with local companies like Esther Price Candies to make Esther’s Little Secret and Press Coffee to make Pirogue Black Tripel, or think of Jackie O’s decision to brew Paw Paw Wheat, a beer made with native Ohio paw paws. Think Fifth Street Brewpub’s decision to brew a fresh hop beer with locally grown hops from Little Miami Farms, or think of the re-embracing of German brewing history and its heritage in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. This connection is what makes craft beer both distinctive and evocative of the places we call home. And it is this spirit that animates “Brewing Local”: understanding the way that local brewing has been and continues to be a reflection of our communities.

For more information on Stan Hieronymus or to purchase “Brewing Local,” please visit BrewersPublications.com/Books/BrewingLocal.

 

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Reach DCP freelance writer Tom Morgan at TomMorgan@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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