At that time, almost 100 years ago and more, malt adjuncts such as rice and “corn products” were frequently used in American beer recipes. Still, final gravities and hop usage were high by today’s commercial norm, which lent considerable taste to the beers. In addition, a lot of lager was still a light reddish-brown or light amber which further enhanced the malt qualities and taste.
I have discussed such beers from many viewpoints here over the last few months.
But how about gaining inspiration from something written last month? Yes, last month. A story out of Detroit reports that Pabst has brewed an original – late-1800s – recipe of Stroh beer in Detroit. It’s the first brewing of Stroh in Detroit in over 30 years. Stroh sold its brands to the mighty Pabst in 1999 after a period of growth-by-acquisition when it absorbed the legendary Schaefer and Schlitz. The debt loads proved formidable and the company, a brewing dynasty which had begun in the 19th century, was dissolved after a distinguished long run.
The brand Stroh is still made and widely distributed by Pabst, but to its credit, Pabst, with its own venerable, German-American history, has done what Beeretseq has long argued for, restored a historic recipe from its archive. (It also brought back Ballantine India Pale Ale and Ballantine Burton and has announced other plans of interest to craft fans).
The new/old Stroh is over 30 IBUs and uses Vienna malt in the grist to get some of the old colour and taste. Hopefully gravities follow old methods as well. Early reviews on Ratebeer sound positive, in fact the verbal descriptions belie the middling scores. One compares intensity of flavour to Sam Adams – a win right there as Sam Adams is a flagship for 19th century American lager quality.
I plan to be in the Windsor area again, in November, and will cross the border to find the restored Stroh, it’s a must.
But let’s go back, not to the 19th century or Taft-era America, but 1960. It was a time of commercial and industrial expansion in America, when technology and efficiency had perhaps their greatest hold on the public imagination. This was before the 60s, Timothy Leary, the counter-culture, and the slow pushback which re-introduced artisan methods in food and drink: think Alice Waters in Berkeley, CA, Elizabeth David’s books in England, Anchor Brewing and homebrewers on the West Coast, etc.
This 1960 booklet, a descendant of the early 1900s corporate hagiographies I discussed earlier, is a fascinating document, providing as it does a detailed account of brewing Stroh in its post-war heyday with those day-glo photos so evocative of the era. In this sense, the Kodachrome-like “nice bright colours” are a bridge to the psychedelic 60s.
From a brewing standpoint, while final gravity and hop levels were probably down from 1800s levels, one may note the beautiful open wood fermenters – nothing in craft brewing today has anything on those. The book makes much of the company’s storied “fire-brewing” system, as well. It was probably a pretty good beer, and now it’s back and probably even better.
The book portrays the brewery at the peak of influence and power in its original market, and must have been a great tour for the beer fan. The Bier Stube looks cozy – it appears there were two of them, one with leaded glass which retained a Germanic look despite the two world wars, and another (pictured in the link given) which was more utilitarian, a probable replication of the 50s “rec room” complete with chips and nuts on the table. (Enter bemusement by British readers).
Chips, nuts, pretzels. That was beer cuisine then, or half of it.
The original Detroit brewery was taken down long ago, but real Stroh is back. Good job.
Note re images: each image above was sourced from the 1960 Stroh booklet referenced in the text (from HathiTrust). All trade marks and other intellectual property in such images belong to their lawful owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.