Liebotschaner Cream Ale
We saw in Part I that Johann Munzer’s industrial-scale brewery in Libotschan, north-western Bohemia, sent a brew to America in the late 1800s. It became a type in American brewing, Liebotschaner.
Both light and dark beers were likely made by Munzer. I identified Export, Lager, Schank, and Doppel beers, at least.
American Liebotschaner seems mostly to have been a pale, mild-flavoured pilsner beer. In the 1960s Stegmaier Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, PA issued both dark and light versions under its Select label, but this dark, and the bock apparently issued, may be an outlier.
In 1974 the local rival The Lion, Inc., established in 1906 as Luzerne Brewery, bought out Stegmaier. The Lion still roars, indeed like Genesee, it is an amazing regional survival beer writers might pay more attention to.
Anheuser-Busch described its Liebotschaner in 1889 as a very pale, “delicate” brew, that nonetheless used Saaz hops, the famed aromatic product of Libotschan’s region.
Libotschan’s beer had to differ in some way from the Saaz-perfumed beers of Pilsen, Budweis, and Michelob. Then as now not all pale lager of Bohemia tasted the same. Something about exported Liebotschaner got the attention of numerous American breweries, that is clear, and the name survived at Genesee into the 1930s.
Genesee Beer today, a notably light, some might say inoffensive brew, gains fuller context in this light. Because, while not bearing the name today, it has a Liebotschaner heritage, as we have seen.
The last beer of note to bear the Liebotschaner name, indeed a GABF medal winner of the mid-1990s, was Liebotschaner Cream Ale, brewed by The Lion, Inc.
After acquiring the Liebotschaner trademark from Stegmaier, The Lion used it to brand a Cream Ale and also a bock beer, according to James Robertson’s (1982) The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer.
At present the cream ale is not being brewed, but these things have a way of coming back. In 2008 beer writer Lew Bryson covered a re-launch of Liebotschaner cream ale. No doubt it will repeat, at some point.
(Label source: Lew’s post).
Now, some might hesitate when seeing the Liebotschaner name on an ale label, even a hybrid type such as cream ale. An ignominious or at least anti-climactic end to a notable heritage, some might say.
In its heyday Liebotschaner was always a lager, presumably as well in Libotschan. (Might its schank beer have been top-fermented? Possibly, but the export beers were certainly lagers).
Given the long period Liebotschaner has been naturalized in America, did insouciance, or the arrogance of marketing, cause an anomaly? Not at all.
Because, Liebotschaner Cream Ale was in fact a lager. BeerMenus states in part:
… [Liebotschaner Cream Ale] is brewed with lager yeast at higher than usual temperature to give it a creamy ale like taste with a malty aroma. Lieb utilizes two varieties of pale malt and three varieties of hops, including imported Czech Saaz and American grown Mt. Hood and Galena hops. Delivers a pale straw color and a light crisp body …
Two pale malts were used, and Saaz hops, just as Anheuser-Busch used for its Liebotschaner 100 years earlier. Tradition. The Lion didn’t forget, methinks. Breweries often know more than outsiders think, then or now.
In a 1997 proxy statement issued when the brewery became publicly listed, The Lion described its Cream Ale much as BeerMenus did.
Did an ale-like character actually result from higher-temperature fermentation? Maybe, but using a lager yeast meant the beer was a lager. California steam beer remains a lager even though fermented at close to the range for ale.
For his part, beer writer James Robertson felt Liebotschaner Cream Ale was pilsner-like. He wrote:
… pale color, very malty aroma, … not really an ale on the palate, more like a pilsener.., but quite good, thirst quenching and slides down easily.
Robertson did not travel to the breweries he reviewed, not for his first book, certainly. His impression relied, we can be quite sure, on palate alone.
That it jibed perfectly with, not just how The Lion’s cream ale was made, but with history, is a matter of satisfaction, to the beer historian at any rate.
I’m quite sure I sampled Liebotschaner Cream Ale back in the day, although a taste memory eludes.
This series concludes with Part III.