CREAM ALE, AMERICA’S LOST BEER ORPHAN

 

CREAM ALE

 

 

Brewing History’s Lost Orphan.

 

For the last quarter of a century or so we’ve all got used to the triumphant return of locally brewed beers featuring exciting flavours that had been all but lost in the drab years of corporate duopolies dominating the brewing industry.

 

That the USA has been central to this phoenix-like rebirth is rather satisfying, especially when one considers that for non-Americans, the thought of American beer was likely to cause derision and disgust from pretty much anyone else prior to the late 1980’s. “American beer? That’s that fizzy stuff that looks and smells like wee right? I wouldn’t want to drink that!”

 

Of course the Americans rather turned the tables on such derision with their astonishing beer renaissance and are now rightly viewed as one of the world’s premier brewing nations. But the origins of the USA’s own original styles is a subject worth looking at.

 

Let’s go back to between a hundred and a hundred and thirty or so years ago. The USA was a fast developing country, busy putting the awfulness of its civil war behind it. World superpower status was still a long way off. Back then the US occupied about the same level of wealth and influence as Australia does today.

 

In this fresh bustling society, immigrant brewers from the great European nations were busy setting up in business all over the country, but particularly up and down the west and east coasts where the majority of the population lived. Various ale styles were produced along with the exciting new lager styles emerging from the breweries of Germany, Czechoslovakia and Denmark. A look at the names of the big players in this nascent industry showed a marked Germanic flavour.

 

The American brewing industry had reached the important point of moving past the simple copying of European styles and beginning to develop genuine original beers. Of these, Cream Ale was preeminent.

 

Trying to get to grips with what the original stylists of this type of beer thought is tricky. Breweries worked in vastly different ways to today, both in production and marketing. Transport was expensive and few brewers dreamed large enough dreams to encompass the idea of offering a national brand like Anheuser Busch managed many years later.

 

Today’s brewers have to work quite hard to get themselves identified and adopted properly as truly local brands. If you do, you find yourself competing with products from all over the country and indeed the world. But back in the early days of New World brewing, LOCAL was your ground state of being. As long as your product was enjoyable you had a reasonable assurance of strong local support.

Buoyed up by this, breweries were able to settle into well organised production of distinctive brews that drinkers could rely on. And among the assorted methods being used, long conditioning periods became more common. Traditional ales often took no more than three weeks or so to be ready and had, as they still do, quite rich and estery characters. But the longer conditioning times becoming widespread as lager brewing grew in popularity began to influence ale conditioning times as well.

 

After all, it’s not like ales are diminished by a lengthy conditioning. They lose some body perhaps and are more austere on the palate than they would have been some weeks before, but the result is a drier, and, might we venture, CREAMY drink.

 

This creaminess almost certainly came from natural carbonation under pressure. Brewing vessels capable of holding conditioning beer under modest pressure were becoming available and even a wooden cask can hold enough pressure to allow the extra C02 produced during conditioning to enter solution in the liquid as fine bubbles. Carbonated drinks had been around for a hundred years at this point so the public had developed a taste for them, but by the late 19th Century tank building had reached a level of sophistication that pressurisation became possible leading to an increase in naturally carbonated beers. Many of these beers, if carefully made, displayed a fine texture and mouthfeel that would have amazed consumers at the time with its surprising sophistication.

 

But then, on January the 20th 1920, the USA took careful aim at its own foot and pulled the trigger. The Volstead Act, or Prohibition, killed the brewing industry off almost entirely. Any brewing company unable to adapt to some new form of product had to close. Alcohol consumption didn’t fall of course, in fact it rose, but demand was now met by organised crime rather than by legitimate breweries with an actual pride in their work.

 

By the time the whole disastrous social experiment had been abandoned, the USA had lost all that its pioneer brewers had worked to achieve. As the industry struggled to rebuild itself in the pre-second world war years Cream Ale was all but forgotten as European Lager styles came to dominate the market.

 

Yet Cream Ale clung on in the Eastern US right into the dawn of the new American beer revolution. Possibly the most famous of these came from the Genesee brewery in upstate New York. Their Cream Ale was conditioned using the German method of Kräusening. This method involves mixing freshly fermenting lager wort into a fully fermented ale to start a secondary fermentation that not only produces the finely beaded carbonation typical of such a beer but also adds a small measure of lager characteristic to the finished product.

 

Whether this particular detail in the process formed part of the original recipes is unclear, but the hybrid ale/lager yeast profile is usually the first detail that any beer aficionado recalls.

 

Cream Ales are not the Hop Monsters of the new look brewing scene. They are gentle, malty light beers bearing a marked similarity to the Kolsch styles of Cologne. Highly refreshing though somewhat unsurprising in today’s market, Cream Ales have their niche and certainly deserve recognition for the way an orphan beer style managed to survive into the 21st century from such a devastating set-back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BREWERY IN A BOX

Welcome to the smallest and neatest brewery you’ll ever see. It’s called ‘The Brewery In a Box’, a four hundred litre a week craft brewery that can be put practically ANYWHERE and was designed specifically for use in places where huge expense and over-reliance on utilities like water and electricity make more conventional brewing kit impractical.

The Brewery in a Box requires minimal site preparation and, once delivered, takes just a day to unpack and set up. Once the LPG and electrical supplies have been connected and signed off then the brewery is ready to use. You can be selling fresh beer in less than a month.

The brewery is delivered to the site in its own building and is self contained. It takes just one person to operate in its basic form, though you always have the option of increasing capacity if needed.

Each Brewery in a Box is custom built to a design worked out by some of the industry’s most experienced craft brewers.

So what’s the concept?

Alan explains….

A couple of years ago I took a holiday on a very small Pacific island. While out on a bus tour I was asked by the driver what I did back home. I told him I was a brewer and he came over all wistful. “I’d love to start a brewery here,” he said, “But I have no idea how it could be done.”

I sat and had a think about it and, to begin with, I had to admit I couldn’t see a practical way to make it work either. Even the smallest commercial brewpub systems need substantial amounts of power to run, usually requiring 3-phase electricity to get the brew house running and a fair bit to run the cold room as well. Looking around at the limited infrastructure I just couldn’t see how it could be made to work.

But the island certainly needed a brewery. They import all their beer from New Zealand in cans and then have the added difficulty of disposing of those cans later. The island had just enough bars and shops to make locally brewed beer a commercial reality but the quantities needed to be small batches with good regular turnover.

It took me a while to work it out, but I got there. Small systems capable of making four hundred litres or so a week certainly exist, but tend to be complex things involving electronics and fragile parts. Great for the urban enthusiast with access to full water and power utilities, but maybe not suited to the kind of out of the way spots I wanted this brewery to go.

The frills all went and the system was designed to operate regularly and efficiently without breaking down. It’s built from tough and simple parts and is as hands-on as any brewer could wish for.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

The basic idea of The Brewery in a Box is to allow good quality beer to be produced in remote locations where a more standard commercial brewery installation would be difficult or impossible to achieve. In doing so, the project would produce side benefits in environmental impact and associated costs.

Many locations, such as Pacific islands, have strict controls over the importation of bottles and cans. Not only are they expensive to import but the local authorities are left with the difficulty of disposing of hundreds of thousands of one-use containers every year. Glass bottles require considerable handling to deal with, aluminium cans somewhat less. But both involve time and expense to dispose of properly.

By comparison, the Brewery in a Box produces nothing that can’t be disposed of safely and cheaply. The environmental impact of the ingredients looks something like this;

*Brewing malt. Malted barley is shipped in 25 kilo sacks. The sacks are sturdy, and useful for all sorts of things. The malt, once used in the brewery can be fed to animals such as pigs, cows, horses and goats. Basically, any animal that can eat grass will thrive on spent malt.

  • Spent hops. The hops are shipped in pellet form and are highly concentrated. Once used in a brew they can be washed out of the brew kettle and added straight to compost bins or worm farms.

  • Yeast begins as a tiny quantity of thin slurry that will grow exponentially as it is used. Each culture will run over eight generations, producing more excess yeast with each brew. Disposal can take various forms. Some can be given away as it is perfectly good for baking purposes. Some can be dried and used as a vitamin supplement or food ingredient. The rest can be pumped into the effluent tank for disposal along with pH adjusted cleaning and sanitising chemicals.

  • Chemicals used for cleaning and sanitising are capable of being blended after use to give a residue that is little more than salty water. The cleaning agent is highly alkaline and the sanitiser is acidic. If mixed together in a standard small water tank the resulting effluent can be pumped out just like a septic tank and taken away to be treated along with normal septic waste. A pH meter is supplied to ensure that this effluent is safe to handle.

IMPORTED BEER VERSUS LOCALLY PRODUCED BEER

Importing beer in bottles or cans to remote islands is a costly business. As discussed earlier, a pallet of beer cans weighing one metric tonne would contain just under a thousand litres. This would weigh the same as enough bagged malt to brew six times that quantity. Exact costings for each location would have to be worked out on a case by case basis as shipping costs to will vary depending on location and local excise and sales taxes.

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Steam Whistle AGM

As the first of the 3 Fired Guys to get fired from Upper Canada Brewing I have always found AGM’s and Board Meetings interesting events. Sadly I am going to miss the Steam Whistle AGM again this year. It was great to have been in Toronto a while back for the Annual Shareholders party. Since then a lot has gone on at Steam Whistle and this year’s AGM has been billed as a potentially very, very interesting. Could be some History in the Making at the Round House.

Watch this Space.

STEAM WHISTLE BREWING INC.

ANNUAL MEETING OF SHAREHOLDERS
The Roundhouse, 255 Bremner Blvd., Toronto, Ontario
12.00 p.m. to 2.00 p.m., Friday, May 4, 2018

Styles and Variations of Cream Ale

Time for an update on the vital topic of CREAM ALE.

As we mentioned before, we made a start on brewing our East Coast Cream Ale with our Nano Brewery. We have a long way to go to catch up with where  Liam Mckenna has taken the original cream ale recipe we developed together (the one we named East Coast Cream Ale). As we prepare to use up the last of the ingredients that came with our brewery we are contemplating a few new cream ale collaborations.

Firstly, we were approached to do something with Mulberries. Like THIS;

The Mulberry Imperial Cream Ale is back!!! You’ve been asking for it, and the wait is over. We start with our Ominbus Cream Ale recipe and take it to the next level. Mulberry Imperial Cream Ale comes in at 7.2% with 100% Mulberry juice added right before kegging. Not trying to brag, but it’s probably the best purple beer in town…come and get it while it lasts!

And then of course we had to do something with our mates at Moonshine Coffee Roasters and before you know it, Coffee Cream Ale.

This incredibly smooth and creamy brew is perfect for any type of beer drinker. We took our highly drinkable cream ale recipe and made some cool twists on it. First we took a bag of freshly roasted Tanzania Peaberry Vanzibar coffee from our good friends at Flying Rhino Coffee Roaster and did a 24 hour cold steep post ferment. Second we transferred it and hit with a beer gas blend to carbonate it to make it seriously creamy. This is truly a well balanced gem of a beer with just the right amount of coffee.

And that’s just us. Our friends at Stone & Wood are having a go at making a Cream Ale with Honey… yummy.

 

So Cream Ale may still be a bit obscure on the world’s beer style lists but we’re showing there’s still life in the brew yet.

Cream Ale Batch 5

We kegged most of Batch 5 on Monday. It’s under gas pressure now and waiting for Brewer Neil to come over for another round of taste testing. Our sampling whilst putting it into keg was encouraging but we have some concerns about the return of apple flavours. Could that be acetaldehyde we wondered? Only time, (or an experienced beer judge) will tell.

East Coast Cream Ale Batch 4

Now that’s tasting better. Fourth time lucky. Have a look and listen.

Our first few batches of Cream Ale made from our little 200 L Nanobrewery had us on a steep learning curve. By brew four we felt we were making excellent progress.

So now it’s time for a tasting experience.

Before we brewed it we had a chat to our brewmaster Liam McKenna in the most Easterly Point of North American (Newfoundland) to go over some refinements he has made to our original recipe, as well as getting some tips to ensure we got a clean and vigorous fermentation. So we ended up doubling the amount of yeast, added plenty of yeast food and last but not least cranked up our hopping by a large margin.

When we tasted the wort after cooling the quadrupling of the hops from the original brew stood out like a streaker at a royal wedding. Yes, OK, Cream Ale was never a particularly hoppy beer but this one is and we’ll not be cautioned otherwise.

Our mission was to have a brew ready for Easter. Mission accomplished. Easter Cream Ale. Extra Hoppy. Hops make us happy.

Big Hand Brewer Neil Moran filling up

Steam Whistle to Top Shed

To travel is a delight, to return home doubly so. But on this occasion the return was made all the nicer by discovering that we’d made the newspapers.  Not just any newspaper — the Echo. Let’s just call it great timing.

So here’s the Top Shed Crew yesterday taste testing some Steam Whistle from one of their Lunch Box Six Packs we brought back from Toronto. We also got to taste test batch 3 of our East Coast Cream Ale from our little Nano Brewery. Both tasted very drinkable and went well with our lunch.

 

We’d show you the lunch too but we ate it. Sorry about that.

Liquid Lunch Box

Liquid Lunch Box from Left to Right: Aubrey Cromwell, Greg Cromwell, Alison Cromwell, Matt Bleakley, Neil Moran, Dan Hill (abscent-not advised)

From Steam Whistle to Top Shed

Steam Whistle Stop

Always fun to visit the Round House and say hello to some of the Good Beer Folks. Here are a couple of photos from my visit to the Steam Whistle Tasting Bar. Have to say the Unfiltered Steam Pils is pretty darn Spesh.

Dr and the Venutian

Cold outside. Warm welcome and Cold Beer inside.

Liquid Lunch in a Box.

Upper Canada Rebellion Revival

Rebellion Lager Banner

There’s a Rebellion brewing. We’ve just got news that Upper Canada Brewings Legendary Rebellion Lager is being brought back from the dead by Henderson’s Brewing. I have been honoured that Steve Henderson asked me to put some words down about my recollections of the days of Rebellion at Upper Canada. Before what I recall I’d like to share some other rebellious memories. The first from Shaggy aka Alan Knight.

REBELLION…..

There’s a name that brings back memories….some of them a bit HAZY I’d admit. Like the time we knocked off a 30 litre keg in that chap’s flat in the apartment block down on the waterfront and I rode back up in the lift from the swimming pool minus any clothing at all and singing an Ivor Biggun song at the top of my voice.

But the best memory I have of it was the day the bottling line was set up incorrectly and we ended up bottling…..Well, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit there. Let me back it up a bit.

Upper Canada had a very agreeable Staff Beer policy. Everyone who worked there got a two-four of their choice each week for free. Plus, if they decided to actually buy another, they’d get a second one free, effectively giving anyone keen on owning that much beer seventy two bottles for the price of twenty four.

As I say, a most agreeable policy.

BUT…..This open handed approach did not extend to either the Bock beer or the Rebellion Lager. If you wanted those you had to buy them. Which was fair enough as the Rebellion was 6% and the Bock 6.5%. When you consider the excise tax those beers attracted you can see why the management were not keen to hand those out for free.

Anyway..On one particular day the bottling was ready to begin. I forget how many people it took to run the entire line but it would be something like nine or ten just to get the old bottles fed in at one end and haul the full two-fours off the other end and stack them in the approved manner before wrapping the entire skid of seventy four boxes in clear film ready to be trundled into the chiller.

The night shift would have spent their time filtering into the two huge bright beer tanks which would then feed the bottling and kegging lines. This was done via a complicated stainless manifold system that had to be got exactly right for everything to work properly.

On the other side of the wall, in the bottling hall, the right labels for both body and neck had to be fitted into the feeder, the right boxes brought out from the stores and folded out into shape ready to be fed through the hot glue machine to seal them once filled.

It was all quite involved. But, once everything was set up and all the workers in their alloted places, the huge filler head would begin to revolve and the bottles would start coming off the line.

On this particular morning, the line had been set for the brewery’s delicious Light Lager, a 4% offering that still rates for me as one of the truly GREAT lawnmower beers. The various huge machine rumbled into life and the noise of a thousand beer bottles on the move filled the hall. The first skid of 1,776 bottles was completed, each carton fitted in a sensible way allowing all seventy two cartons to be safely wrapped before being hauled away. Skid number two followed it soon after.

We were about half way through skid number three when the lab tech came hurtling through into the hall yelling “STOP! STOP BOTTLING! STOP BOTTLING!!!! YOU’RE FILLING OFF THE WRONG TANK!!!!”

There were a few minutes of confusion as the various machines were halted. Everyone wore large ear defenders so communication took a while to achieve. But, once it had all stopped, the truth was there, plain as day, though a fair bit more EXPENSIVE.

For sure enough, the lab guy was correct. We had just happily filled somwhere just shy of FIVE THOUSAND bottles of Rebellion, all of them incorrectly labelled as Light. What could be done? Not much as it turned out. There was no way of re-labelling them or offering them for sale in any way. Canadian law would frown mightily on such an attempt. So, all that could possibly be done was to write, in huge letters all across the plastic covering of each skid; ‘STAFF BEER ONLY!’

So it was dear reader that the merry and hard working boys and girls of the Upper Canada Brewery got to take home their free bottles of The Good Stuff for the best part of a month before the naughty, wrongly labelled stocks of bottles finally ran out.

I seem to recall it was a FINE MONTH, though for some reason my normally sharp memory seems dimmed on this subject.

Alan Knight

Here’s my first go at a quote or should I say, my daughter, Aubrey’s transcription of a bathtub recording recollection during our recent visit to Canada.

“At Upper Canada Brewing we did many things well. One thing we did really, really well was brew a beer called Rebellion. It was the feather of our brands*, from the day it was bottled to the day we brewed the last brew; Rebellion had many, many followers. It was truly a feather, people loved it and there were plenty reasons why, the flavour, the colour, the taste and probably the big thing, the bang for the buck. At 6% it really did something special to you and I’d love to crack another bottle right now. Looking forward to trying some from Henderson, well done at bringing back that brand, there’s a few others might be worthy of consideration as well from the Upper Canada past. Cheers, Greg Cromwell.” – GBC

Reference to feather is described in a blog post and idea from a while back. Simply put I contrasted what it was like to sell beer at Upper Canada compared to Creemore Springs a real while back.

Failed Rebranding and Relaunch Poster

 

Elephant or Feather?
Last night in the shed I was talking to Alison about our forty acres and described it as a feather in comparison to other properties which were more like elephants. This is an analogy I first came up with in the 80”s as a young gun slogging micro brewed beer in Canada.
I get lots of ideas in the shed and some of them make it to one of the white boards and generally the ones I really like turn into domain registrations and fledgling websites. Elephant or Feather has not only made it to the white board and a domain registration; it has also been hosted and I have even written a brief which I will share with you for a logo and website design. This idea must truly be a feather!
Creative Brief
Looking for very simple illustration style to depict an elephant and a feather.
Would prefer them to be created from scratch rather then i stock.
Like the idea of working with black, white and orange.
Here is a quick background.
When I worked at Upper Canada Brewing we had the best, hardest working team in the micro brew business. Man we worked hard.
Every draft tap we got every promotion we secured we did through very very hard work. It was just like pushing an elephant to get the Upper Canada brand to grow. The second we took our shoulders off the big beast she would stop.
Then there was our competitor Creemore Springs brewery. They came on the scene just after Upper Canada in the mid 80”s in the early heady days of the Ontario microbrewery scene. Sporting just one brand the little ah shucks brewery in the sticks had no sales or marketing people. They did not need any because there was a waiting list to have the honour of serving their product. Somehow this brand was like a feather.
When I got fired from Upper Canada brewing on my way out the door I knew I wanted to start my own brewery and when I did it was going to be a featherTwo years later 3 Fired Guys (3FG)  Steam Whistle Brewing opened its doors.