What’s Changed; What’s Not
In paging the (inaugural) 1982 Great American Beer Festival’s program, there are many interesting gleanings.
The hops used are stated for numerous beers including Falstaff’s Ballantine India Pale Ale: Bullion and Cascade, see p. 24. Interestingly, Ballantine IPA also used some corn grits then.
Two years later, in Michael Jackson’s first The Pocket Guide to Beer, he describes the hops (see p. 119) as Brewer’s Gold and “Yakima”. Yakima is not a hop itself (to our knowledge), and probably meant Cascade. But a migration had occurred from Bullion to Brewer’s Gold.
Brewer’s Gold is related to Bullion, both are classic mid-century ale and porter hops. They were bred in England early in the 1900s and have the mixed qualities of native U.K. hops and a wild North American variety culled in Manitoba.
They offered a refined, arboreal taste with a North American undertone, the so-called wild or blackcurrant taste.
The hop bill for Ballantine IPA changed over time in the 1900s before withdrawal by Pabst around 1996. Craft brewer and writer Mitch Steele described yet further approaches taken to the hop bill in his excellent study of IPA in 2012.
The beer was re-introduced by Pabst a few years ago using a number of “new era” (post-1972) hops, in addition to some older varieties. I understand it did not sell in hoped-for quantities and is now retired again.
It is interesting that Ballantine, then a division of Falstaff (now Pabst) was using Cascade in 1982, as it had been released by the USDA for commercial use only 10 years earlier. The beer of course dates from the 19th century.
In our recollection, Ballantine IPA never had a strongly citric note even though Cascade is thought of that way today. It is easy to forget that Cascade, hallmark of modern craft brewing, was designed initially for large brewery use.
It formed some 15% of U.S. hop cultivation in 1975, hence entering into many U.S. beers then including Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, from Blitz-Weinhard in Portland, OR. This was a reasonably assertive blonde lager that had some influence on craft brewing developments.
Other macro beers used it too but as aroma hopping became de-emphasised in industrial brewing, attention soon turned away, or from any aroma hops. They might still be used but with reduced emphasis being placed on aroma, certainly for Cascade.
It was picked up by the nascent craft movement which ran with it and to a large extent this created the “profile” of modern craft brewing.
New Albion Pale Ale, the first modern craft beer (1976-early 80s, Sonoma, CA), used Cascade. Boston Brewing Company, makers of Sam Adams, re-brewed it for New Albion’s founder Jack McAuliffe a few years ago. It was a good beer but most agreed the notes considered typical today of Cascade were not pronounced.
Ballantine IPA in 1982 would have been similar. Also, Cascade may have been used in that beer primarily for bittering, as Bullion had been used to distill a hop oil to convey a character similar to dry-hopping. Bullion may have borne the brunt of the aroma character, in other words, later Brewer’s Gold.
In any case, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale really put Cascade in lights, as did Anchor Brewing in San Francisco via its Liberty Ale. Liberty Ale only came out in its current form in mid-1983 although various Anchor beers had experimented with it in the 70s.
Of course later, hop rates increased and with Grant’s India Pale Ale, Stone IPA (it did not use Cascade but the taste is broadly similar in our view), and many more beers a stronger, more assertive Cascade character emerged. Sierra Nevada emphasized the new trend with its Torpedo, a beer that benefitted from a new hop infusion system it devised.
Therefore, there are really three eras of Cascade: the largely macro-brewing period (1972- early 80s); the initial, relatively moderate craft use via avatars Liberty Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; and the “IPA” era proper when the Cascade, or other hops not so different (Centennial, Citra, etc.) were given a showcase in the palate.
You can read in the 1982 program the hops used in Sierra Nevada’s beers then – very early offerings as the brewery was barely a couple of years old – and for many other beers listed including the beers of Boulder Brewing in Colorado, a brewery that continues to this day.
In sum, hop characteristics then was an important part of beer appreciation; it still is.
Another part of beer appreciation then has largely lost focus today: recommended timelines for consumption. Even for some long-established, pasteurizing breweries, such as F.X. Matt in Utica, NY, an ideal consumption period is noted. It might vary from a few weeks to six months or more, depending on the brewery.
Today, while all concerned with good beer know the importance of freshness, few would think to inquire in the way the 1982 program does. You see the concern today mostly for New England and other IPA and even then not really for technical stability but to capture the hop character at its best.
There are a number of reasons for the change. First, often it is not possible to know when a beer is produced or at least packaged, date codes are stated in various ways and often not at all. Second, it is generally understood craft beers, with some exceptions for strong beers meant to lay down, aren’t meant to be stored long.
Third, production quality is certainly on average much higher now than then. People expect a decent-tasting product however it reaches them, and usually get it.
As well too, where beers are pasteurized you have the protection of that process. It can push palatability beyond the range considered usual for craft beer. Some craft brewers pasteurize too now, so where available that offers additional protection (perhaps at some cost to the palate but that is a different question).
Since so little distinctive beer was available in 1982, the festival organisers probably felt freshness data might benefit drinkers who encountered the beers later. Clearly the organizers asked each brewery supplying beer about this matter.
And so, if you were lucky enough to get some Boulder Pale Ale, say, in Boston in the 1980s, knowing that freshness was between three weeks and two months might assist your purchase or how you viewed the palate. (I drank it in that period, sourced in western New York, and it was fine).
In any case, it’s not an area not much considered today. One drinks the beer as it comes, and usually it is fine.
For some of the 1982 beers, no ideal consumption period was stated, including for Anchor Brewery in San Francisco which pasteurized and still does. The drinker could then conclude the beer as encountered on the east coast, say, was less affected by time than beers for which freshness was conveyed.
At least, it told them something.
Still, the understanding that time is an enemy of most beer however brewed or processed has always been with us. One 1970s formulation put it colourfully this way: the poor standing in a tasting of a notable European brand no doubt can be ascribed to its seeming to date from the Battle of Waterloo!
N.B. The handwritten notes in the 1982 program are by Charlie Papazian himself, founder of the American Homebrewers Association and hugely influential figure in American and now world craft brewing. All intellectual property in the program belongs solely to its lawful owner. The images shown appear for educational and historical purposes only. All feedback welcomed.