Pre-prohibition American lager: a lost beer?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Cbalducc, Oct 12, 2012.

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  1. Cbalducc

    Cbalducc Initiate (0) Jul 1, 2010 Mississippi

    I have read that the lager produced by Anheuser-Busch before Prohibition was different than what they produced afterwards. Is that true?
  2. pschul4

    pschul4 Zealot (562) Jan 7, 2011 Illinois
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  3. Extravadanza

    Extravadanza Initiate (0) Aug 3, 2011 Ohio

  4. pschul4

    pschul4 Zealot (562) Jan 7, 2011 Illinois
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    I'm surprised that a BMC would make a beer that isn't distributed nationally. I had it on tap a couple times and it drinks really easy. Have seen 6ers around but theres just so much I haven't tried so I never have picked one up
  5. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,256) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Anheuser Busch brewed a number of different lagers in the pre-Pro era- besides Budweiser and Michelob (their two post-Repeal brands until Busch was created in the '50's).


    Michelob (typo in the above ad, apparently) at the time was all-malt, as were a number of the others according to testimony given by Adolphus Busch before Congress in 1903, in which he stated "... the beer of this company is made entirely of barley malt, hops and yeast, except that some rice is used in order to make a very pale beer of the Bohemian type. "

    Budweiser itself has gone through a number of changes- mostly in terms of hopping rates and hop strains used (the label used to boast of using "Saazer" hops). largering time (pre-Pro it was 6 months) and probably an increase in the Rice to Malt ratio, and ABV.
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  6. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,346) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Some old time American beers are made and called a Classic American Pilsner. These can be found sometimes at Brewpubs. Less corn or rice, and more hops, are the quick ways to summarize the beers.

    There is this popular homebrew recipe based on research by Jeff Renner.

    A look at the beers brewed in Brooklyn

    George Fix and Pre Prohibition lagers.
  7. UCLABrewN84

    UCLABrewN84 Poo-Bah (12,430) Mar 18, 2010 California

    I heard they were testing it in certain markets for a while. I finally picked up a single here in SoCal after I saw it on the shelf. It's a surprisingly decent beer for what it is.
  8. SnowFlowMfg

    SnowFlowMfg Initiate (0) Dec 13, 2011 California

    Where did you find it at? I'd like to find one and give it a go to.
  9. lsummers

    lsummers Initiate (0) Jun 21, 2010 California

    I had batch 19, and I wouldn't mind having it again. I definitely wish this was available nation wide on tap, especially when I go back home to Pa for the holidays and the only thing on tap is bud light/coors
  10. luisc123

    luisc123 Initiate (173) Oct 20, 2011 California

    I've had batch 19 but had no idea what it was and I don't really remember what it tasted like. My roommate also came home from the Anheuser-Busch plant where he was doing electrical work with something labeled "Test Beer". He told me it was the lager that they brewed before prohibition, so essentially AB's Batch 19
  11. leezy

    leezy Initiate (66) Sep 13, 2009 Minnesota
    Beer Trader

    I tried that at the Minneapolis Beerfest in August, it is actually pretty good. I heard it's to be draft-only and is not yet available in MN. (Go figure since they were promoting the crap out of it)

    In the mean time, I have tried this and it's a lot more true to the style from what I've read. LB may be a regional only brewery as of now, we have their beer in most of the better liquor stores in MN
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  12. Jfriz25

    Jfriz25 Initiate (150) Jun 8, 2012 Wisconsin
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    I had it at a Bucks game last season and thought it was pretty good. I'm not going to run out and buy a 6 pack or anything but if there are no other options it's an easy choice over the common BMC products.
  13. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,256) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Both of the Big Two have regional beers. Anheuser Busch only distributes Michelob Golden Draft and the Michelob Golden Light in the mid-West (or is it only in Minnesota- where it's actually the #1 brand [right, Chaz?]). In Texas. AB brews and markets an obvious Shiner Bock clone called Ziegenbock. Is Rolling Rock national?

    MillerCoors other regional beers include Hamm's and Southpaw (distributed only in "select states" is how their website puts it). I think Hamm's had a broader distribution when it was an Olympia and then a Pabst brand in the '70's thru the '90's.

    Heck, when I started drinking even AB's Busch - then called Busch Bavarian - was only sold in certain states. I remember people in NJ "bootlegging" it back from Florida à la Coors in the '70's. I'll confess to even buying a 16 oz. can of Busch Bavarian and bag of Corn Nuts (two products not available in NJ at the time) when I moved into my apartment in LA, CA in 1976.
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  14. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (5,687) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
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  15. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,043) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Industry Beer Trader

    I'll be on the lookout for the U.S. craft "Corn Nuts American Lager."
  16. UCLABrewN84

    UCLABrewN84 Poo-Bah (12,430) Mar 18, 2010 California

    Total Wine.
  17. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,256) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Ha- never thought of the common ingredient in those two products.

    Of course, no "craft brewer" would ever dream of using the dreaded evil corn - "Maize" and "Brewers Crystals", well, sure...why not? After all "Craft geeksters do not live by pumpkin alone..."(tho' it sure seems like it).
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  18. aasher

    aasher Poo-Bah (2,653) Jan 27, 2010 Indiana
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  19. SnowFlowMfg

    SnowFlowMfg Initiate (0) Dec 13, 2011 California

    Yes. Going there right now!
  20. Biffster

    Biffster Initiate (0) Mar 29, 2004 Michigan

    The beers produced throughout the US before Prohibition were different. After the lager revolution in the 1870s on, most American beers were Americanized riffs on Central European styles. Pre Prohibition Lager (or Classic American Pilsner) had more body, more hop flavor and bitterness and more alcohol than today's American Lagers.

    Although some did advertise all malt beers and European hops, most local or regional breweries (which still existed and commanded very strong market share in their local or regional areas) had Americanized them by using two row barley instead of continental six row, using corn and or rice to boost the fermentables, and often using North American hops for some or all of the hop bill. American hops at the time gave a more earthy, woody impression (like Northern Brewer or Cluster) versus the spicy peppery impression associated with German hops like Saaz or Hallertau. The result was a bigger beer, with a more grainy flavor and often (but not always) a noticeable corn or rice flavor, along with a pilsener-like level of hop flavor and bitterness that would range from pepper and spice to wood and earth.

    They are not all that common commercially even now, unfortunately. Craft breweries try, but the words "Classic American Pilsener" scare off (wrongly) people who step into a brewpub looking for something with flavor and character. And the BMC efforts are looked down on (often wrongly again, IMO) by craft beer lovers because, well, they are BMC efforts. It's too bad, really, because the style represents what was really the golden age of the American brewing experience. And, it's a very tasty style to boot.
  21. DougOLis

    DougOLis Initiate (185) Aug 15, 2008 California

    I think Lightning Brewery in Poway, California (San Diego) considers their Ionizer Lager to be a Pre-Prohibition style lager. Haven't had it in awhile but I have like it quite a bit when I have.
  22. EgadBananas

    EgadBananas Initiate (0) Mar 18, 2009 Louisiana

  23. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,256) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    I don't know about that, even though it's long been common belief among the craft brewers. But based on what records I've found, it appears that pre-Pro lagers tended to have less or around the same alcohol content as the current AB and MC "full strength" (i.e., not "light/lite") flagship brands of 4.6 - 5.0%.

    The problem with pre-Pro records are that some don't specify "ABV" or "ABW", and when the same beers show up in records, the alcoholic levels often vary.

    Here's some examples (comparing these two, it appears IN used ABW, altho' Budweiser then stands out, compared to other citations):

    1906 State of Indiana Health Dept.
    Pabst Blue Ribbon - 3.51​
    AB Budweiser - 4.27​
    Schlitz - 3.72​
    Miller High Life - 4.18​
    Lemp's 4.09​

    1906 NH Board of Health (alcohol by Vol. specified)
    Schlitz - 4.56​
    Miller - 5.02​
    Pabst - 4.15​
    Blatz Milw. Lager - 4.58​
    Blatz Export - 5.0​

    A 1906 Budweiser ad claimed it contained "3 89/100 per cent" alcohol (probably ABW which would equal a bit under 4.9% ABV). In the Repeal era battle to legalize beer before full Repeal, August Busch, Sr., who was fighting against the 2.75% limit and for the eventual 3.2 ABW (4% ABV) level, claimed that pre-Pro Budweiser was "4.5 to 4.7 per cent".

    In defending the temporary 3.2 ABW Repeal beer, many brewers noted that pre-Pro lagers in the US weren't that much stronger than 4% ABV. Here's one such quote:

    You inadvertently flipped those barley types - 2 row was the standard European barley, 6 row was the commonly available, protein-rich US variety at the time - one that required the use of adjuncts to produce a Bohemian/pilsner style beer.

    Steve Hindy and Tom Potter in Beer School note that the original Brooklyn Lager recipe was developed with the help of Bill Moeller (ex-Ortlieb and Schimdt's of Phila. brewmaster) and was based on Moeller's grandfather's recipes, who'd worked in turn of the century Brooklyn breweries.

    The OP, as I read it, was about Anheuser Busch's lager beer(s)- primarily Budweiser, but as noted above A-B brewed over a half dozen lagers in the pre-Prohibition era. That was not uncommon - the other two large US brewers of the era did the same. Pabst brewed a similar line-up of lagers (Bohemian, Bavarian, Select (which became "Blue Ribbon"), Hofbrau, Export, Doppel Brau, Red, White and Blue, etc) as did Schlitz (Pilsener, Wiener (i.e., Vienna), Clumbacher, Extra Pale, Erlanger, even one called Budweiser). Most US lager brewers did the same and one can assume the recipes all varied, as did the pricing.

    I think that those who often refer to the lost "CAP" style sometimes wrongly imply that there was ONE basic US lager beer recipe at the time, but that doesn't seem to be the case at all - only that, in general, the flagship lager beers of that era were hoppier and contained a larger percentage of malt than current versions.
  24. JoeyBeerBelly

    JoeyBeerBelly Initiate (0) Dec 15, 2006 New York

  25. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (5,033) Sep 24, 2007 Washington
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  26. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,346) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    6-row barleys was grown in the US as it did well in the US climate. It has higher Nitrogen content, and to reduce haze in the finished beer, adjuncts with 0 notrogen like corn or rice are used to reduce haze, not boost fermentables (though you could do that). Cluster was the predominate American hop until the 1960s. If we are talking about Northern Brewer, you have to realize that was breed in England in 1934, so not pre-prohibition, and I am not sure when it got to the US.

    If you want to learn more about Classic American Pilsners, read the articles I posted above. Having brewed some of those, they are similar to Continental Pilsners/Lagers in strength and taste.

    Edit - I see JK covered most of this.
  27. marquis

    marquis Crusader (758) Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Yes, the use of rice allowed 6 row barley to be utilised.It's high in nitrogen but also that's because of the continental climate in which it's grown (for the same reason the UK import North American wheat for bread making as our climate yields grains with too low nitrogen levels to provide adequate gluten) It allows brewing to be entirely domestic and the blandness of domestic malt isn't an issue in a beer of this type.Although rice is more expensive it allows for cheaper malt to be used.
  28. patto1ro

    patto1ro Zealot (525) Apr 26, 2004 Netherlands

    Bavarian and Culmbacher would probably have been dark Lagers.
  29. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,256) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Yes, didn't mean to imply that all the lagers offered by A-B, Pabst, Schlitz (and all the other German-heritage US breweries) were of the "Bohemian/Pilsner" styles like their eventual flagships beers were. While the OP only mentioned "lager" he should have said "lagers".

    Culmbacher was a common style of pre-Pro dark lager offered - Heileman even resurrected it under the Blatz name in the 1980's when they tried to resurrect that brand for their "craft" line-up (even building a separate "microbrewery" in Milwaukee, now run as a Leinenkugel facility). Likewise, "Bavarian" in the US, even post-Repeal, often meant a dark beer (they were common as draught beers in New England into the 1970's, where the handle might only read "Narragansett Bavarian").

    I've always like George Ehret's (once the #1 US brewer) description of his "Bavarian" lager compared to those newfangled "Pilsen" types beers coming from the upstarts in mid-West like the above soon-to-be Big 3:

    Not to say that those German-founded US breweries didn't "stray" from the traditional German styles - Schlitz brewed a porter and AB marketed their Black and Tan as "the American Porter - more mild and refreshing than the best English brands of Porter, Stout and 'alf and alf".
  30. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,256) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    Trying to remember some other US brewers who used "Culmbacher" as brand/descriptor.

    Thought one might have Piels but --- no. Still their early 20th century beers (both pre- and post-Prohibition) are further examples of the range of US lager beers. They included these German types, with the added following descriptions they noted in parenthesis in ads, etc:

    Dortmunder (Special Light)​
    Pilsener (Fancier's Light)​
    Wuerzburger (Golden)​
    Muenchener (Special Dark)​
    Kapunizer (Extra Dark - Double Brew)​
  31. Biffster

    Biffster Initiate (0) Mar 29, 2004 Michigan

    Thanks for the catch on my gaffe re: 2 row vs six row. And, very interesting data on pre-Pro beers. I think a lot of people get confused by ABV versus ABW, and indeed, it appears that the difference was being used to political effect by August Busch and others.

    The BJCP references OGs of 1.050-1.060 before Prohibition and 1.044-1.048 after. There does seem to be a slight drop, but I wonder how much of that is due to trying to manipulate opinion and legislation at the repeal. It also references a corresponding drop in IBUs from 30-40 to 25-30 after.

    You raise another very important point that I obliquely referenced, but that most people miss. Pre Prohibition, most of these breweries were brewing a family of beers mimicking the various lager styles common across Europe. You mention Pabst and Schlitz as excellent examples. It was common to see an Export or Select, Pale, Amber, Bock, or other designations varying the style (and price).

    I think it's important because even though Ale was largely driven from the American brewing scene with the Lager revolution, it didn't mean the death of choice for beer drinkers. Breweries were still producing a range of beers with a range of strengths, flavors and bitterness levels up until Prohibition.

  32. marquis

    marquis Crusader (758) Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    It's easy to fall into the trap that because nowadays Germans brew to RHG and give the impression that they always have done so, when the German brewers went to the US it was when adjuncts-particularly rice-were becoming increasingly popular except in Bavaria.This was stamped out around 1906 when RHG was imposed on the whole of Germany.
  33. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,256) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    The problem with that BJCP stat is that looking at only the Original Gravity doesn't tell the entire story re: alcohol content. As adjunct use increased, the final gravities also went down. As Laufer and Steward put it in 25 Years of Brewing (the American Brewer booklet put out at the quarter century anniversary of Repeal), writing in reference to the similar increase in adjuncts usage between the 1930's (when the stats show US beer wasn't that different that the 20th century pre-"2.75% War Beer", pre-Pro era) and the 1950's:

    Oh, yeah, the average pounds per barrel hop usage decreased steadily in the 20th century. See the chart on my Post Repeal Hop page, taken from various Brewers Almanac volumes. Some of that decease in recent decades might be attributed to increased use of high alpha hops, but there's no doubt that US flagship "macro" beers' IBU's have steadily gone down (as also noted on that page linked above).
  34. yemenmocha

    yemenmocha Poo-Bah (2,482) Jun 18, 2002 Arizona

    They had quite a few of these, so with just batch #'s on them, at the GABF this year. Ones I tried weren't bad.
  35. vkv822

    vkv822 Meyvn (1,429) Nov 30, 2009 Oregon

  36. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,446) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Premium Member

    A lot of good history discussion here. Some of my favorite ‘quotes’:

    From The Evolution of North American Beer by Kihm Winship:

    "There were two possible ways of achieving lighter color and lighter body: (1) more careful malting and (2) the use of other grains besides barley." Pabst began using small amounts of rice in 1874. In 1878, they turned to corn. The amounts of each varied, but by 1893, Pabst's standard beer began with one part cornmeal to two parts malt.

    Cochran writes, "There were still some lovers of fine beer who preferred the old-style German product, and for these, several thousand barrels of pure malt beers, amounting to about a tenth of the total production, were brewed. The cost of materials for these brands due to the larger percentage of malt, and the use of more imported hops, ran as high as 80 to 100 percent more than for the standard product... Yet the great majority of Americans preferred this latter, cheaper type."

    In 1899, in testimony before a Senate committee investigating adulteration of food products, a New York City brewmaster testified that he used only malt in 75 percent of his beers, but that he made another beer with the addition of corn grits. The committee chairman asked, "You have some customers that prefer that?" The brewer replied, "Well, I use it to meet competition. Some customers want a lighter beer because I can and do give it to them cheaper. The cost of production is less."

    Later he testified that all-malt beer was a superior product but the chill haze (i.e., enzymatic proteins in solution that appear as a haze or cloud when the beer is chilled) convinced some consumers otherwise. "The ordinary beer drinker or any person not conversant with the reason of that cloudiness may reject the beer for the reason that it does not look right; it does not appeal to the eye." The addition of corn to the mash provided more starch for the excess enzymes from the malt to work on and thus decreased the amount of proteins in the finished beer, solving the chill haze problem cheaply and effectively.

    Cost and aesthetics were working for lighter lagers and against all-malt beers and ales.”

    From Explorations in Pre-Prohibition American Lagers by George Fix:

    “Authenticity suggests that domestic six-row pale malt should be used, and I am constantly struck by how well six-row pale malt does in a formulation like this. According to Wahl-Henius, " . . . only six-row barleys of Manchusia type can be considered for the preparation of chill-proof beers . . ." (1). In my experience, however, I get the best results in this formulation using malt from a domestic two-row barley call Hannchen. This barley was once grown in the Columbia River and Blue Mountain counties of Oregon (6). Its genealogy can be traced back to Hanna, the classic Moravian barley. This barley variety was brought to the United States early in the 20th century (7), and it is reasonable to assume that it played an important role for quality-conscious turn-of-the-century brewers. Unfortunately, it is no longer cultivated. Brewers today wishing to work with a domestic two-row malt will have to settle for Klages or Harrington.

    The primary feature that separates this beer from all-malt continental lagers is the use of flaked maize, an unmalted cereal grain. The flakes are hardly a cheap malt substitute. Indeed, they typically cost two to three times more than domestic malt, and they are even more expensive than premium imported malts. What one gets with this specialty grain is extra strength without the satiating effects of a high-gravity beer. Alcohol by itself is essentially tasteless. Nevertheless, it is a flavor carrier, enhancing the other active flavor components in a beer, as it does in this formulation. The maize also leaves a pleasant grain-like sweetness in the finished beer. The chief advantage that flakes have over corn grits or rice is that, unlike the latter, flakes do not require cooking at boiling temperatures to achieve gelatinization. Many feel that this is the key to the flakes' desirable flavoring (2).

    The high hopping rate in this beer sharply distinguishes it from modern American lagers. Although neither Nugey nor Wahl-Henius were specific about the type of hop varieties used, it is likely that "imported hops" means continental noble varieties like Hallertauer Mittelfruh or Saaz. Turn-of-the-century Budweiser labels, for example, had the Saaz hop proudly displayed as one of its ingredients.

    A good deal more uncertainty surrounds the domestic hops used. It is known that Clusters were popular among U.S. brewers. I find the flavoring of this hop to be quite crude, especially in formulations having a high hop profile like this one. In the past, I have used continental aroma hops exclusively. In recent years, however, I have obtained good results using domestic aroma hops like Crystal, Liberty, Mt. Hood, and Tettnanger (which are good but different from German Tettnangers).”

  37. CellarGimp

    CellarGimp Disciple (335) Sep 14, 2011 Missouri


    Full Sail Session Lager
    Boulevard Pilsner
  38. Domingo

    Domingo Poo-Bah (2,176) Apr 23, 2005 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    Batch 19 is pretty good, although for the same price, I'd rather just buy the AC Golden Colorado Native or Herman Joseph's from the same folks.

    Full Sail Session is a wonderful beer that's probably along the lines of what you're looking for (disregarding any historical accuracy with the recipe). It's cheap, tasty, and oh so drinkable.
  39. cubbyswans

    cubbyswans Aspirant (238) Jun 10, 2008 Missouri
    Beer Trader

    There are several beers produced by BMC that are not distributed nationally. AB regionally distributes Michelob Golden Draft, Michelob Golden Draft Light, Ziegenbock, and Kokanee.
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