Message in a Bottle
What is the first draft beer in a bottle? By this I mean, not beer bottled with its residual yeast, which is near-ancestral, but filtered, bright beer?
We must qualify further with “modern”. In the 19th century there had to be unpasteurized, bottled beer that was roughly filtered – filtered enough to pour clear in the glass. Pasteurization only become general late in the 19th and early 20th centuries, certainly for brewers with any geographic reach.
There were many debates within the industry on beer pasteurization then. These are mostly a dead letter today. While craft beer is mainly unpasteurized in can or bottle, the inherent taste advantage (in the opinion of many, I should add) is something tacitly understood rather than vaunted to consumers, today.
This is one by-product of a beer renaissance now some 40 years old. Some craft beer is, in fact, pasteurized, but rarely is much hay made on the point in consumer beer writing at any rate.
Pasteurization is used in brewing, including for most imports and mass-marketed beers, not to make it safe for consumption as in the case of milk, say, but to render it stable from a microbiological aspect – to retard souring in particular.
Thus, for modern, bright, bottled or canned beer that is not pasteurized, which is the first?* Coors beer is a notable early case, at least the domestic U.S. Coors.** Coors did not abandon pasteurization in bottles until 1959 though, as we discussed earlier in this post.
Miller Genuine Draft is another case, rolled-out in 1986 as beer writer Tom Acitelli set out some years ago in the (now defunct) magazine, All About Beer.
So what is out there before MGD, before Coors?
It is always chancy to claim the first, but in 1934, Hoffman Beverages Co. in Newark, N.J. made bold claims for its “draught beer in the bottle”. A number of ads make clear Hoffman felt its unpasteurized draft beer was singular in the industry, see this one in March, 1935.
Morean Breweriana has a small bottle for sale which states clearly “unpasteurized”.
How many persons these claims confused or dismayed in the 1930s is hard to say. The industry knew exactly what was meant. But the period was one of high public confidence in scientific methods including as applied in industry.
The success of Hoffman’s brand, which seems not to have been stellar, was possibly affected by stating an undoubted positive to industry insiders. Hoffman did try to explain to consumers why its unpasteurized beer was superior. A September 1934 advert, in question and answer format, is an example. Whether very many reading “got” what was said is another matter.
The plant had been built from the ground up in the early 1930s to prepare for post-Prohibition, although standing apparently on the grounds of earlier breweries.
The bottles shown are sturdy-looking things, probably made heavier than normal to resist any re-fermentation in the bottle. At the same time, the tall bottle in particular, containing an impressive 29 oz., has an elegant look, not unlike a Champagne bottle.
An ad in the New York Times in 1934 shows the bottle clearly and, given the context, contains a detailed explanation of the bottling process.
Script on the labels suggests an all-malt product. One tag line reads “from world-selected malt and hops”. If that wouldn’t fit neatly into the branding of a modern craft brewery, I don’t know what would. Plus ça change…
A 1934 advertisement in the trade journal American Brewer proudly explained with images that Hoffman had adopted the Nathan fermentation and cooling system. The core of the Nathan system was, and is, the cylindro-conical fermenter, a stand-by of craft and other brewing around the world. Then, it was still novel.
Hence, there was all-enclosed, sterile fermentation and cooling. In conjunction presumably with fine filtration, evidently Hoffman felt it could bottle beer at least for regional sale without heat-pasteurization. The bottling stage itself was possibly conducted under aseptic conditions as well. Such technology was known in the general period. I will return to it in a later post.
Hoffman Beverages lasted from 1933 until December 1945 when Pabst Brewing in Milwaukee bought it out, see this New York Times report. That was an important deal, beyond the significance of the relatively small Hoffman, as it gave Pabst a first entry on the ground into the important Eastern market.
The mighty Anheuser Busch of St. Louis, now Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, followed a few years later, in Newark to boot. If you ever deplaned from Newark Airport you saw the plant on your way in. It’s still there.
For decades the Hoffman-Pabst plant had a rooftop bottle-shaped water tower, a landmark in Newark. It was finally dismantled with the rest of the plant a dozen years ago. The big bottle is pictured in the Roadside America site, a monument to a now vanished era of New Jersey industrial history.
Ironically (in some ways), the type of beer Hoffman Draught Beer in a Bottle was has never been more popular, pace the segment of IPA that is happily cloudy, and most wheat beers.
Most craft beer you buy today is made from world-selected malt and hops, is unpasteurized, and pours bright or almost.
*The context here is modern American. In Britain from about 1900 bottled beer was marketed as bright, diamond, sediment-free, no-deposit, etc. Some was chilled, filtered, carbonated and filled by counter-flow, but not pasteurized. In the 1930s pasteurization became routine, which it did in America earlier, at least for brewers distributing widely. What stands out for Hoffman is, advertising lack of the process.
**The one brewed today in Canada is, according to our last inquiries, pasteurized, the draft as well. In this regard it should be said there are different types, and intensities, of pasteurization, depending sometimes on the type of package used. It is likely, too, today that all methods of pasteurization are less damaging to beer than 80 years ago. The technology is likely better, in other words. That said, our taste impressions over the years confirm the superiority of unpasteurized beer whether bottled, canned, or on draft.