Call It Session Beer Day

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If you’re on the internet, Twitter or Facebook today, you’ll no doubt have noticed that people are saying it’s National Beer Day. And it is, but only in the sense that somebody decided to call it that, and lots of people agreed to it, as well. Which is exactly how every holiday got started. But the day should, I think, make sense. April 7 was chosen because it was the day that beer was first available after prohibition ended. Or at least that’s what a lot people believed, and continue to believe. Some even still call April 7 “Repeal Day.” But, of course, it wasn’t. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as our 32nd president on March 4, 1933, he quickly got to work on one of his campaign promises: to end prohibition.

He wrote to Congress on March 13, 1933:

I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution; and to provide through such manufacture and sale, by substantial taxes, a proper and much-needed revenue for the Government. I deem action at this time to be of the highest importance.

The very next day, Representative Thomas H. Cullen introduced the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives. Senator Pat Harrison did likewise in the Senate. It easily passed both houses, and was sent to committee on March 20. The re-worked combined document was approved by the Senate later the same day, while the House approved it the following day.

On March 22, FDR signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which amended the Volstead Act and specifically “27 U.S.C.: Intoxicating Liquors,” creating § 64a et seq., allowing for the manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beer, which they defined as 3.2% alcohol by weight (which by the more common standard today, is beer that’s 4% by volume or abv – technically 4.05%). When he signed the legislation, FDR is reported to have quipped. “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

FDR signing the Cullen-Harrison Act.

According to the act, each state then was free to pass it’s own similar legislation and allow 3.2 beer to once again be available. Twenty-one of the states, including California, along with the District of Columbia, took the federal government up on the offer, and passed their own laws to allow low-alcohol beer. The new law took effect on April 7, 1933.

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A raucous crowd celebrating the return of 3.2 beer at the Fauerbach Brewery tavern in WIsconsin on April 7, 1933. They even had a small band playing in a corner of the bar.

So people in those states were pretty thrilled about being able to legally drink beer again for the first time in thirteen years, longer in some states, even if it was only weaker beer. Celebrations were held around the country. Since most breweries knew once FDR took office that beer would likely be back, they started brewing at least by March 22, when the law was signed, so that beer could be ready for early April. This was also the beginning of one of the most well-known marketing strategies, when Anheuser-Busch president Gussie Busch sent a team of clydesdale horses pulling a beer wagon first to present beer to New York governor Al Smith and then down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. to deliver beer to present Roosevelt.

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In the run-up to April 7, people in those twenty-one states started getting pretty excited and started calling the impending day names like “Beer is Back Day” and “Brew Year’s Day” or “New Beer’s Day.” What they didn’t call it was “National Beer Day.” That day would have to wait until December 5, 1933, when Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, the 36th state to do so, and making it the law of the land. The 21st Amendment repealed prohibition and made it possible for beer and wine of all strengths, along with spirits, to be legal again in all 48 states, whereas in April only 21 states legalized some beer, but only if they were low in alcohol. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 that a man in Richmond, Virginia, who, at the urging of a friend, conceived of calling April 7 National Beer Day.

I’m certainly in favor of celebrating beer. I do so pretty much every day in my house. As regular readers know, I keep track of beer holidays, birthdays and historical dates, too. It’s a hobby of mine. You can follow along on the Brookston Almanac. But I think that if we’re going to celebrate a “National Beer Day” that December 5 makes a lot more sense since that’s when beer became legal again nationally in every state in America in 1933, or at least had the potential to do so. More recently, Lew Bryson, launched April 7th as “Session Beer Day” as a part of his Session Beer Project, which is designed to shine a light on and celebrate low-alcohol, but full-flavored beer. And that, to me, makes more sense because it was beer that was 4% abv or lower that became legal today, which is essentially our modern definition of a “session beer.”

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Here’s what I wrote about session beers in 2010, and I think it still holds true today.

While “extreme beers” are the current darlings of the craft beer scene, another kind of beer is waiting in the wings for its shot at the spotlight: Session Beers. They’ve been here all along, but they often don’t get the attention they deserve. If extreme beers are the big bullies of the beer world, loud and brash with huge flavors, showing great depth and complexity, and usually high alcohol, session beers are their polar opposite.

Session beers are, by contrast, light-bodied, with delicate flavors and are often very refreshing. What’s not to like? They’re actually harder to make than extreme beers, because it’s also easier to hide flaws in a big beer. A session beer is a beer that’s naked by comparison. Any defect is immediately obvious.

One of my favorite quotes about making these kinds of beers is by Gordon Biersch brewer Tom Dargen, who once said. “Making [a session] beer is like going to the beach in a thong. You better have all your parts in place or it’s going to be ugly.”

Defining a session beer

So what exactly is a “session beer?” Defining them is actually trickier than is sounds. They’re not exactly a beer style or even a collection of styles, more like an idea. The basic notion is that a “session beer” is one that you can drink during an entire “session” of drinking and still be relatively lucid and hold up your end of the conversation.

Their most obvious characteristic is that they’re lower in alcohol than many mainstream beers, which are usually around 5.5% a.b.v. — alcohol by volume. While there’s no official definition, most people tend to believe that beers under 5% can be considered session beers, and at least a few set the bar even lower.

Bryson defines them as being 4.5% or below and also includes in his definition that they must be flavorful, balanced and reasonably priced. His simplest way of describing them is “low-alcohol, but not low-taste.”

They’re the ideal for beer for an evening at the pub, spending the night with friends, having a few drinks and talking about the day’s events. That’s one of the reasons most British beers that you’ll find at an average pub in England can be considered session beers, at least the cask or real ales. English ales are usually around 4.5% or less but remain surprisingly full-flavored.

Session beers are also similar to so-called “lawnmower beers,” except that they tend to be more flavorful. Lawnmower beers are most often mass-produced light lagers with very little actual flavor or hop character. The kind of beer you want to quench your thirst after mowing the lawn in the hot sun. Session beers are similarly light-bodied, but should stand apart by having delicate, but very obvious hop, malt, and/or other flavor characteristics.

My friend Martyn Cornell, who’s a British beer writer and historian, gave one of the best statements I’ve ever seen about how session beers are not just about being low-alcohol, but are “a combination of restraint, satisfaction, and ‘moreishness.’ Just like the ideal companions on a good evening down the pub, a good session beer will not dominate the occasion and demand attention; at the same time its contribution, while never obtrusive, will be welcome, satisfying, and pleasurable.”

There are plenty of beers that fit that definition being made by craft brewers in America and by small and large breweries abroad, too. Many area breweries and brewpubs have one or two that can be considered a session beer. Check the alcohol level and then give them a taste to make sure they’re as flavorful as you like.

While many are also light in color, golden to amber, they don’t have to be. One of the most surprising session beers is Guinness, because many people believe that dark beers are heavier beers. But that’s just not the case, as Guinness Draught is only 4% a.b.v.

A beery backlash

I should point out that I love many extreme beers and in no way think session beers should replace them, or otherwise diminish their popularity. Extreme beers include some of the best, most experimental, most forward-looking beers ever conceived and brewed. They’ve helped redefine what beer is and what it can be. It’s helped bring foodies into the fold by its ability to be paired with an endless variety of foods, standing up to many dishes that wine cannot. I certainly won’t stop being excited by all the wonderful big beers being made.

But more is not always, well … more. Sometimes less is. Sometimes you just want something that has subtlety, delicate flavors and lets you enjoy your time with friends and family. And that’s why session beers are such a great choice.

Session beers are simply a great concept, and one that promotes both responsible drinking and conviviality, while at the same time not sacrificing taste. I can certainly drink to that.

Essentially every day is National Beer Day, but today should really be Session Beer Day.

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UPDATE 4.8: To underscore my point that many people still incorrectly believe that prohibition was repealed on April 7, witness Summit Brewing’s new poster for 2016, whose title reads “April 7 Celebrate Prohibition Repeal Day.” C’mon guys, I know your heart is in the right place, but this isn’t helping.

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The Top 50 Annotated 2015

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This is my ninth annual annotated list of the Top 50, skipping two years ago because the BA provided that information then, so here again you can see who moved up and down, who was new to the list and who dropped off. So here is this year’s list again annotated with how they changed compared to last year.

  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev; #1 last ten years, no surprise
  2. MillerCoors; ditto for #2
  3. Pabst Brewing; ditto for #3
  4. D. G. Yuengling and Son; Same as last year
  5. Boston Beer Co.; Same as last year
  6. North American Breweries; Same as last year
  7. Sierra Nevada Brewing; Same as last year
  8. New Belgium Brewing; Same as last year
  9. Craft Brewers Alliance; Same as last year
  10. Lagunitas Brewing; Up 1 from #11 last year
  11. Gambrinus Company; Down 1 from #10 last year
  12. Bell’s Brewery; Same as last year
  13. Deschutes Brewery; Same as last year
  14. Minhas Craft Brewery; Up 2 from #16 last year
  15. Stone Brewing; Down 1 from #14 last year
  16. Sleeman Brewing; Down 1 from #15 last year
  17. Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; Rocketed up 20 from #37 last year
  18. Brooklyn Brewery; Down 1 from #17 last year
  19. Firestone Walker Brewing; Up 3 from #22 last year
  20. Founders Brewing; Up 3 from #23 last year
  21. Oskar Blues Brewing; Jumped up 9 from #30
  22. Duvel Moortgat USA (Boulevard Brewing/Ommegang); Down 4 from #18 last year
  23. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Down 4 from #19 last year
  24. Matt Brewing; Down 4 from #20 last year
  25. SweetWater Brewing; Down 1 from #24 last year
  26. Harpoon Brewery; Down 5 from #21 last year
  27. New Glarus Brewing; Down 2 from #25 last year
  28. Great Lakes Brewing; Up 1 from #29 last year
  29. Alaskan Brewing; Down 3 from #26 last year
  30. Abita Brewing; Down 3 from #27 last year
  31. Anchor Brewing; Down 3 from #28 last year
  32. Stevens Point Brewery; Same as last year
  33. Victory Brewing; Up 2 from #35 last year
  34. August Schell Brewing; Down 1 from #33 last year
  35. Long Trail Brewing; Down 1 from #36 last year
  36. Summit Brewing; Down 2 from #34 last year
  37. Shipyard Brewing; Down 6 from #31 last year
  38. Full Sail Brewing; Up 5 from #39 last year
  39. Odell Brewing; Up 1 from #40 last year
  40. Southern Tier Brewing; Up 1 from #41 last year
  41. Rogue Ales Brewery; Down 3 from #38 last year
  42. 21st Amendment Brewery; Jumped up 7 from 49 last year
  43. Ninkasi Brewing; Down 1 from #42 last year
  44. Flying Dog Brewery; Same as last year
  45. Narragansett Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  46. Pittsburgh Brewing (fka Iron City); Down 1 from #45 last year
  47. Left Hand Brewing; Up 1 from #48 last year
  48. Uinta Brewing; Down 2 from #46 last year
  49. Green Flash Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  50. Allagash Brewing; Same as last year

Not too much movement this year, except for a few small shufflings. The top is virtually unchanged, with only numbers 10 and 11 switching places. And apart from those two small changes, the top 13 were all the same as 2014. The biggest jump came from Ballast Point, which leapt up 20 spots, while Shipyard slipped the furthest, dropping six slots. Only two new breweries made the list; Green Flash Brewing and Narragansett Brewing. Off the list was World Brew/Winery Exchange, a California contract label brewer making private label beers for retailers, and Bear Republic Brewing.

If you want to see the previous annotated lists for comparison, here is 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

Top 50 Craft Breweries For 2015

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The Brewers Association just announced the top 50 craft breweries in the U.S. based on sales, by volume, for 2015, which is listed below here. I should also mention that this represents “craft breweries” according to the BA’s membership definition, and not necessarily how most of us would define them, as there’s no universally agreed upon way to differentiate the two. For the eighth year, they’ve also released a list of the top 50 breweries, which includes all breweries. Here is this year’s craft brewery list:

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Here is this year’s press release. The last couple of years, the BA has helpfully annotated the list, saving me lots of time, since I’ve been annotating the list for the last eight years, but they’ve abandoned that practice this time around. So for the eighth consecutive year, I’ll also posted an annotated list, showing the changes in each brewery’s rank from year to year, but it will take me some time to put together so I’ll have that again later today.

The BA, this year, did create a map showing the relative location of each of the breweries that made the list.

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Make American Beer Drumpf Again

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I really hope this isn’t an April Fool’s Day prank. But even though I just saw it today, it was originally posted March 22, and it’s by a brewery that actually went through with making a beer using goat’s brains in an homage to zombies for a Walking Dead-themed beer, which in my mind increases its chances of being legitimate. Anyway, Dock Street Brewery of Philadelphia announced that they’re launching a new line of political beers to be known as the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Drumpf” series. First up will be Short-Fingered Stout, which is described as “a bitter and delusional stout with an airy, light-colored head atop a so-so body.” Sadly there’s no timetable yet for its release. With many beer folks converging on the City of Brotherly Beer early next month, we can only hope it will be available to coincide with the Craft Brewers Conference, so we can all have a chance to “Make American Beer Drumpf Again.”

Here’s Dock Street’s press release:

Is it just us, or does this particular celebridential candidate always sound like he’s had a few too many? In his (dis)honor, Dock Street Brewery is brewing up a series of quaffable reminders to exercise your suffrage, and just dump Drumpf.

Beer has always, throughout history, been a key ingredient in the recipe for revolutionary ideas. In that spirit, we’re brewing this series to declare our disdain for Drumpf, and to extend a little nod of solidarity to our friends, fans and neighbors that also believe the country deserves better representation – on a national and international platform – in the race to be Commander in Chief. We just can’t wrap our well-coiffed heads around a candidate who encourages his supporters to attack protesters at his rallies, wants to limit access to the U.S. based on religion, and flagrantly manipulates facts and data. Oh yeah, and that ridiculous wall idea? Come on.

The first in the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Drumpf” series will be Short-Fingered Stout, a bitter and delusional stout with an airy, light-colored head atop a so-so body. Don’t worry, its bark is worse than its bite; this big baby comes in at a somewhat conservative 4.5% ABV.

Release date will be announced soon, during which we’ll host a meeting of the minds and palates at our brewpub where guests are encouraged to debate, discuss, and toast to free speech and democracy.

All are invited and welcomed, no matter what your political views are. Except one person…

Go home man, you’re Drumpf.

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Artwork: Alexis Anne Grant for Dock Street Brewery

Deschutes Announces New Brewery In Virginia

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In the rumor mill for several months, today Deschutes Brewing of Bend, Oregon announced that they’ll be building a second brewery in Roanoke, Virginia. They’ve set up a separate page for information about the new facility in Roanoke. Here’s the press release:

Deschutes Brewery announced its much anticipated decision on an east coast location today at an event in downtown Roanoke, Virginia. The growing brewery, which was founded in Oregon in 1988 by Gary Fish, has explored hundreds of potential locations in the region over the last two years. The company selected Roanoke based on several criteria including a culture and community that fit well with Deschutes’ decades-deep roots.

“We started Deschutes Brewery when craft beer wasn’t burgeoning and led with a beer style that wasn’t popular at the time – Black Butte Porter,” said Gary Fish, CEO and founder of the brewery. “This pioneering approach was a key driver behind our decision to go with Roanoke, as that same spirit exists in this community and its fast-growing beer culture.”

The future Roanoke facility has been lovingly dubbed “Brew 4” as it takes its place in line after the original Bend, Oregon public house (Brew 1), the brewery’s production facility in Bend (Brew 2) and the Portland, Oregon public house (Brew 3). Brew 4 will be located at the eastern edge of Roanoke with construction on the site beginning in 2019. Eventually, a little over 100 new jobs will be created for the region, and the new brewery will produce approximately 150,000 barrels to start, with a design to increase capacity as needed. Deschutes expects to start shipping beer from the Roanoke location in about five years.

“Roanoke is honored to be chosen as Deschutes Brewery’s East Coast location after a very thorough review of several communities in the Southeast,” said Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill. “It is a company with a strong culture of community engagement, recognized for its craftsmanship and will be a perfect fit for Roanoke’s vibrant outdoor lifestyle. We are thrilled to welcome Deschutes as we continue to build a diverse, resilient economy.”

Deschutes Brewery chose to add an east coast location after the company’s distribution footprint (which currently includes 28 states and the District of Columbia) reached the east coast. By having a production facility on the eastern seaboard, the brewery will be able to deliver beers – such as its flagship Black Butte Porter – to states east of the Mississippi quickly and more sustainably.

Michael LaLonde, president of Deschutes Brewery, who was an integral part of the east coast location selection team, said, “Although it was a tough decision – we loved so many of the communities that we visited over the past two years – we are very excited to be heading to Roanoke. We love the region and everyone we’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with during this process has been incredible. We have absolutely been blown away with how the community rallied around bringing us here and has given us such a warm welcome. #Deschutes2Rke we’re on our way and proud to be able to now call Roanoke our second home.”

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Craft Market Exceeds 12%

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The preliminary numbers for 2015 are out, and the news is again pretty damn good. The Brewers Association today revealed that craft beer’s share of market, which finally passed 10% last year, is now 12.2% of the total beer market, by volume.

From the press release:

In 2014, craft brewers produced 22.2 million barrels, and saw an 18 percent rise in volume and a 22 percent increase in retail dollar value. Retail dollar value was estimated at $19.6 billion representing 19.3 percent market share.

“With the total beer market up only 0.5 percent in 2014, craft brewers are key in keeping the overall industry innovative and growing. This steady growth shows that craft brewing is part of a profound shift in American beer culture—a shift that will help craft brewers achieve their ambitious goal of 20 percent market share by 2020,” said Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association. “Small and independent brewers are deepening their connection to local beer lovers while continuing to create excitement and attract even more appreciators.”

But wait, there’s more.

Additionally, in 2015 the number of operating breweries in the U.S. grew 15 percent, totaling 4,269 breweries—the most at any time in American history. Small and independent breweries account for 99 percent of the breweries in operation, broken down as follows: 2,397 microbreweries, 1,650 brewpubs and 178 regional craft breweries. Throughout the year, there were 620 new brewery openings and only 68 closings. One of the fastest growing regions was the South, where four states—Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Texas—each saw a net increase of more than 20 breweries, establishing a strong base for future growth in the region.

Combined with already existing and established breweries and brewpubs, craft brewers provided nearly 122,000 jobs, an increase of over 6,000 from the previous year.

“Small and independent brewers are a beacon for beer and our economy,” added Watson. “As breweries continue to open and volume increases, there is a strong need for workers to fill a whole host of positions at these small and growing businesses.”

If you’re curious how those numbers are calculated, BA economist Bart Watson posted an explanation of the 2015 Craft Brewing Growth by the Numbers.

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Cigar City Bought By Fireman Capital

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In an exclusive this morning, Brewbound is reporting that Fireman Capital to Purchase Cigar City. According to Brewbound, “Cigar City, a leading independent brewery based in Tampa, Fla., has agreed to sell controlling interest to Boston-based private equity firm Fireman Capital Partners, which already owns majority stakes in Oskar Blues, Perrin Brewing and the Utah Brewers Cooperative outfit that includes the Wasatch and Squatters brands.”

The overall entity created by Fireman Capital for their brewery acquisitions is United Craft Brews LLC, incorporated in Delaware. The SEC Form D lists Fireman Capital’s address is Waltham, Massachusetts, but information on OpenLEIs lists a registered address in Delaware, but Oskar Blues’ Longmont address as Headquarters for United Craft Brews. Last year, Westwood was still asking Does Oskar Blues Still Own Oskar Blues? This will undoubtedly continue to muddy the waters surrounding the answer to that question.

Rumors had been swirling that ABI was considering Cigar City as their next target for acquisition, and founder Joey Redner confirmed that he’d gotten as far as signing an LOI. But ABI let their exclusivity period pass without executing a formal purchase agreement, leaving Cigar City free to entertain other potential buyers.

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Cigar City’s website posted a joint press release about the transaction:

Oskar Blues Brewery Rolls up a Cigar City Blunt

Longmont, CO, & Tampa Bay, FL — Oskar Blues Brewery announced the acquisition of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. Putting months of acquirement rumors to rest, the decision is driven by mutual irreverence, respect and desire to stay true to craft beer roots.

The combination stems from the want to take risks, sniff out bullsh*t and grow against-the-grain in an era of increasing competition within craft beer. The collaboration will match years of large-scale growth, expansion expertise and resources of Oskar Blues with the strength of Cigar City’s local following to help both breweries strengthen their future position. Similarly to Oskar Blues, Cigar City’s award-winning brews are well known and respected within the craft community.

“Cigar City is facing next-level challenges and we needed to develop next-level skills and resources to meet them. But, we got into beer out of passion and an unwavering desire to travel our own path. We didn’t want to just shove our round peg into some f*cking square hole and hope for the best. Florida craft beer drinkers want something they can proudly stand behind. These guys get that. They wrote the book on keeping it real,” says Joey, founder of Cigar City Brewing. Joey will remain as CEO of Cigar City following the transaction.

Since 2009, Cigar City Brewing achieved a near constant growth pattern reaching nearly 60,000 barrels in 2015, placing the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida on the craft beer map. The partnership will provide additional investment for Cigar City’s infrastructure growth within Florida.

“What Cigar City has done for the community of Florida craft beer is impressive. It’s important for our culture to do business with people we want to hang out with and Joey and the gang fit,” Dale Katechis, Soul Founder of Oskar Blues, stated about the new partnership.

Oskar Blues Brewery is the funky brewpub that started brewing beer in 1999 in the small town of Lyons, CO and is responsible for starting the craft beer in-a-can movement in 2002 with Dale’s Pale Ale. In 2008, the brewery expanded down the street to Longmont, CO. and added an additional brewery in Brevard, NC in 2012. Oskar Blues brewed 192,000 barrels in 2015 and announced another brewery in Austin, TX scheduled to open in May of 2016.

Terms of the acquisition are not disclosed.

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Mesoamerican Corn Beer Discovered on Ancient Teeth

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The ancient city of Casas Grandes (a.k.a. Paquimé) is “a prehistoric archaeological site in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Construction of the site is attributed to the Mogollon culture. Casas Grandes has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.” It once was home to at least 3,000 people in the 14th century, and was most likely a trade center in its heyday. It was first excavated in the 1950s, and initial finds included hundreds of human remains. It was inhabbited beginning around 1130 CE and hit its peak after 1350 CE, but was inexplicably abandoned a century later by 1450 CE. It’s “regarded as one of the most significant Mogollon archaeological zones in the northwestern Mexico region.”

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So you’d think it was pretty well mined for what could be learned from the ancient city. But a team of archeologists from the University of Calgary led by Dr. Anne Katzenberg is using new technologies to examine the plaque on the teeth of hundred sets of human remains, specifically what they call “tooth calculus,” which she says is “fossilized tooth tartar.”

Western Digs, which “is a science news site that investigates the archaeology, anthropology, and paleontology of the American West,” continues the story in First Evidence of Corn Beer in Southwest Discovered on Teeth From Ancient Burials:

“If teeth aren’t cleaned regularly, then the tartar, which can trap pretty much anything in it, such as algae, plants, fungus, or fibers, will slowly mineralize with everything stuck in it and turn into calculus, while the microremains turn into microfossils.”

To get at this microscopic evidence, the team recovered tartar from the remains of 110 people found within the ancient city and from other sites in the Casas Grandes River valley, all buried between 700 and 1450 CE.

Of those 110 samples, 63 yielded some sort of microscopic remains.

But what they’ve concluded is that there was a lot of corn beer being consumed, but more importantly “what archaeologists say is the first conclusive evidence of corn beer in the Greater Southwest.”

Paquime-Casas-Grandes-Pottery-Ceramic-Figurine

Here’s more from First Evidence of Corn Beer in Southwest Discovered on Teeth From Ancient Burials:

Three of the samples revealed granules of maize that bore the unmistakable signs of fermentation, he said — including swelling and fragmentation caused by being heated at three distinct temperatures, and striations created by the fermenting process.

These bloated, broken grains seem to be the result of making chicha — a corn beer whose use has been recorded in Central and South America for as much as 5,000 years, King said.

In those cultures, brewing and consuming chicha is thought to have held ceremonial value, but it may have held other functions as well, he noted.

“We don’t have enough information to determine [chicha’s] use,” King said.

“Based on ethnographic accounts, we default to ‘ritual’, although I always think that’s a cop-out answer.

“We know modern groups used corn beer or similar drinks in religious ceremonies, so that’s all we can go off of.”

In addition, King noted, the burial contexts of the samples haven’t yet been analyzed, so archaeologists can’t yet draw conclusions about whether beer consumption was limited, for example, to a certain social class.

Moreover, he added, this is the first “substantial evidence” of corn beer in the Greater Southwest, so it’s possible that chicha may have served a different function in Casas Grandes than it did in Mesoamerica.

When it comes to beer in the southwestern archaeological record, he said, “almost nothing exists for northern Mexico or the American Southwest. The results we posted may be the first of their kind for this region.”

King’s new findings, then, raise the question of how the custom of brewing corn beer arrived at Casas Grandes, as well as when, and by whom.

“The best archaeological evidence we have for corn beer and other alcoholic drinks comes from Peru or Mesoamerica,” King said.

“So, if anything, the idea for corn fermentation came up from the south, but that is still conjecture at this point.”

As for when beer came to town, his findings do provide some insights.

His team studied teeth dating back as far as the year 700, but the fermented granules were only detected on remains dated to the so-called Medio Period of Casas Grandes — a cultural heyday that spanned from about 1200 CE to 1450 CE — suggesting that chicha might have been a relatively recent phenomenon.

“Our results show that maize was used throughout various time periods, but evidence for maize fermentation only comes from the Medio period,” he said.

“This is not to say such use did not exist in the [earlier] period, only that our results don’t currently support that idea.”

But whether it was brewed, chewed, or cooked, the corn of Casas Grandes may, in time, teach us volumes, not just about diet, but also about the social interactions that shaped one of the most important cultural crossroads in ancient North America.

“The continuity of maize use throughout the two time periods is important,” King said.

“It may suggest a continuity of people, thereby supporting an in situ development.

“Turning maize into beer during the Medio period, however, could suggest an influx of new ideas — or perhaps even people — during that time, which might indicate outside influence — either foreigners coming to Casas Grandes, or locals traveling and coming back with new ideas.”

Bear Republic To Open 2nd Brewpub

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One of my favorite breweries, and the 2nd largest in Sonoma County, announced that they will be opening a second brewpub in the town right next door to me, in Rohnert Park, California. Bear Republic Brewing, whose original brewpub in is Healdsburg, and also operates a production facility in Cloverdale, has taken over the former Latitude Island Grill space in Rohnert Park, just off the Gold Course Drive exit.

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Here’s the press release:

In keeping with the tradition of honest ales and family values, Bear Republic Brewing Company®, its employees and the Norgrove Family are excited to announce that after twenty years, Bear Republic will be opening the company’s third brewery operation in the City of Rohnert Park, California.

“Bear Republic looks forward to developing a positive relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, the City Fathers, the local business community and the citizens of Rohnert Park,” said Bear Republic Brewing Company® President & CEO Richard Norgrove.

The former Latitude Restaurant will be the new site of Bear Republic’s Rohnert Park brewpub.
The brewery and brewpub operation is currently in the planning stages and will commence with the construction phase at 5000 Roberts Rd, formerly the site of Latitude Restaurant. No opening date is available as of this writing.

“Rohnert Park is thrilled to have Bear Republic coming to town,” said Rohnert Park City Council Member Amy Ahanotu. He added, “A brewery of their quality is exactly what we’ve been looking for to expand the dining and entertainment choices for our residents and visitors.”

That’s going to be awesome, with Bear Republic so much closer to my house, but also in building their business with this third location. For more information about the space, here’s the original designs from Latitudes.