hist-brewing: American Classic--any commercial brewers?

Jeff Renner nerenner at umich.edu
Fri Feb 25 06:17:44 PST 2000

bjm10 at cornell.edu wrote:

> Are there any commercial (including professional craft) breweries that
> currently produce and sell the "American Classic" lager style?

Unfortunately, not so far as I am aware, and I am pretty well networked on
this (see more below for my involvement with this style).

Donald Beistle answered:

> Yes, a number of Wisconsin micros made CAP/CAL-style beers last summer for
> the State Fair.<snip>

A little more information on this as I know it.  About 13 Wisconsin
breweries brewed this style for the 1998 "Great Taste of the Midwest" beer
festival, although several of them had to do more of a cream ale version
since they lacked lagering facilities.  I'm not aware of such a project
last summer, but there may have been.

The recipe was developed by Capitol Brewery's Kirby Nelson from an old
Schlitz (I think) brewing log.  It specified white corn grits, so he
searched until he found a source in the south.  He provided the ingredients
for other breweries that wanted to brew, and I understand the project was a
hit.  I didn't attend but Capitol did distribute theirs in kegs and I had a
couple in a Madison pub a few weeks later.  I enjoyed it, but I didn't
think it had as much cahracter as my own.  It certainly wouldn't have been
mistaken for any mainstream American commercial lager, though

I had spoken to Kirby at Sam's Liquors in Chicago maybe a year before this
and found he was fertile ground for the style, so I like to think that I
had something to do with sparking his interest.  The project grew out of
the article in Zymurgy on pre-pro lagers, whose author interviewed me
several times and quoted me and my Brewing Techniques article (more below).
I understand Kirby had a UW business school marketing class tackle this as
a project and they came up with some great product names, none of which I
know, which he has copyrighted for possible use.  I haven't, heard anything
lately, though.

Eylat Poliner <allotta at earthlink.net> wrote:

>Hate to tell you but the "Classic American Lager" is also Coors, Bud etc....

Only the same way that the dinosaurs aren't extinct, there's one on singing
in the tree right now.  In other words, they evolved into birds, and
classic American lagers evolved into Corrs, Bud, etc.  They certainly
aren't the same.

>Barley being expensive, the earliest German brewers in the 1800's used
>corn and
>other adjuncts in their brews.

Actually, the reason that corn and rice were introduced about 130 years ago
was because US 6-row "Manchurian" barley was/is too high in protein to make
a stable beer.  The excess protein will precipitate out and make a cloudy
beer.  Unmalted grain has low levels of soluble protein (it stays behind
either in the mash tun or in the kettle), which reduces the protein level
of the beer.  For more details on this history and brewing
recipes/techniques of 100 years ago, see "The American Handy Book of
Malting and Brewing Trades by Wahl and Henius (1902)

>After Prohibition, beers got lighter and lighter in color and taste.  Last
>Bud had on the market for a short time their pre-prohibition lagers using
>Bush's original recipes.

This was a marketing thing and the beers were not historically accurate.
They were all malt and not very bitter.

>Before Gremans immigrated and started to brew, all beer were English
>styled ales.

Very true, and within 40 years (1850-1890), the US brewing industry had
become almost entirely a German industry.  Brewing schools were often
conducted in German.  Ale breweries and ale nearly disappeared, although
they held on on the east cost.

I have had this style as a project for some years.  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 be
sure to also read Ben Jankowski's "The Bushwick Pilsners: A Look at Hoppier
http://brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.1/jankowski.html and
George Fix's "Explorations in Pre-Prohibition American Lagers"
Unfortunately, the Zymurgy article is not online.

A homebrew movement grew out of interest in part sparked by my article and
postings on HomeBrew Digest (HBD).  Several other brewers got the style
recognized for competitions two years ago, and interest in it continues to
grow.  It's a great style.  I took best of show in 1998 Michigan State Fair
with it, and many others have done well in competition.  Tom Plunkard took
a very close runner-up Best of Show at last year's invitational Master
Championship of Amateur Brewing in Houston with a phenomenal example.

If anyone is interested in brewing it, I suggest that you check HBD
archives http://hubris.engin.umich.edu:8080/cgi-bin/dothread for my update
last December, I think.  I have progressed beyond my original recipe.  Let
me know how it turns out.


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

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