hist-brewing: Classic American Pilsner

Jeff Renner nerenner at umich.edu
Fri Feb 26 06:36:45 PST 1999

bjm10 at cornell.edu wrote:

>Like I said, my interest
>goes all the way up to whatever it was Mr. Capone sold in Chicago.

I don't know if you are a reader of HomeBrew Digest (HBD)
http://www.hbd.org or not.  In case you are not, and for others who are
not, let me tell you about a pet project of mine (friends would call it a
zealous mission), Classic American Pilsner (CAP).  This is a name I gave
(and which has become accepted in the HBD community of homebrewers, at
least) for what is also called pre-prohibition lager.  I chose the name to
include early post prohibition lagers, and this is certainly what Scarface
Brewery of Chicago would have produced during the 20's.

See my article in Brewing Techniques, "Reviving the Classic American
Pilsner - A Shamefully Neglected Style"
http://brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue3.5/renner.html and
two previous articles that helped inspire me, "The Bushwick Pilsners: A
Look at Hoppier Days" by Ben Jankowski
http://brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.1/jankowski.html and
"Explorations in Pre-Prohibition American Lagers" by George Fix
http://brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.3/fix.html .  There
was also a cover article in Zymurgy  about two years ago, not available

This is the beer that has degenerated over the decades since WWII into the
tasteless megaswill that we all distain.  Strangely, nearly everyone who
tries it likes it, from Joe Sixpack to beer geeks, and including women,
whose taste supposedly drove brewers to lighten their beer.  (It wasn't
that, it's just that people will drink more light bodied beer, so breweries
sell more).

This is the beer that was developed by German born or trained brewers in
the US in the last third of the 19th Century with indigenous ingredients -
6-row barley with its difficult high protein which makes for poor keeping
beer, corn (or less commonly rice), which dilutes this high protein and
appeals to accountants because it's cheaper than malt, so they push the
brewer to use more than he might like, and local hops, apparently Cluster
types.  These brewers had to adapt their brewing methods to incorporate
these different ingredients, most notably by use of a separate mash for the
corn, called a cereal mash, in a new piece of equipment, called a cereal

This is the beer than degenerated into modern American beer, but which had
real character.  We know because we can recreate it from historic sources
(for example, the 1902 classic _American Handy book of Brewing_ by Wahl and
Henius which Spencer Thomas has kindly put on line (unfortunately not in
text, though) at http://hubris.engin.umich.edu:8080/Wahl/  .

This is a beer which I have brewed often, as have many other homebrewers
and 13 commercial Wisconsin breweries this past summer (using
pre-prohibition brewing logs from Pabst) for the Great Taste of the Midwest
beer festival.  I am not aware of any commercial examples that are
currently being brewed.

This style has been recognized by the American Homebrewers Association
http://www.aob.org/ and the Beer Judge Certification Program
http://www.bjcp.org/ .  These sites have style guidelines.  Basically, it
should be a pale, clean tasting lager of about 1.044-1.054 (less is
acceptable for post-pro, more for some strong pre-pro), hopped to 20-40
IBU, using corn (or rice) in a significant amount (20-30%).

George Fix and I disagree on the desirablity of using 6-row, which is
unquestionably authentic.  He feels that 2-row gives a more refined beer.
I like the perhaps slightly more characterful results of using 6-row.
George also hates Cluster hops, and is desperately looking for evidence of
some other hop variety having been grown in the US at the turn of the
century.  So far he has been unsuccessful.  According to Hop Union's Ralph
Olson, all indications are that US hops from this period were Cluster-type
hops.  At the Master Championship of Amateur Brewing (MCAB) technical
conference in Houston two weeks ago, Olson said that whenever Hop Union
tests so-called "wild hops" that someone has found, they turn out to be
Cluster type.  While Cluster is authentic for at least bittering, imported
hops were used historically for aroma and flavor, and first wort hopping is
a useful tool for hops flavor and aroma.

A search of HBD archives
http://hubris.engin.umich.edu:8080/cgi-bin/dothread for CAP will give a
huge harvest of posts and will fill you in more on this great style.  If
you want to read more of my thoughts on it, limit your hits by searching
for CAP and Renner.

CAP has become very popular with homebrewers and has done well in
competitions.  I took a Best of Show (BOS) at the 1997 Michigan State Fair,
and another brewer's CAP took first runner-up BOS, losing "by and eyelash"
to a better known style,  American Pale Ale, at MCAB.  Judge familiarity is
a problem in competitions, and I have seen some rather poor judge comments
from judges who didn't understand the style.

I hope this will inspire some readers to brew a CAP.


Jeff Renner in Ann Arbor, Michigan c/o nerenner at umich.edu
"One never knows, do one?"  Fats Waller, American Musician, 1904-1943. 

To unsubscribe from this list, send email to majordomo at pbm.com containing
the words "unsubscribe hist-brewing" (or unsubscribe hist-brewing-digest, if
you get the digest.) To contact a human about problems, send mail to
owner-hist-brewing at pbm.com

More information about the hist-brewing mailing list