Oakland Tribune staff food writer Steve Dulas did a fun piece on food for camping last week. He included baked apple, chili and, naturally, camp-style bean soup. But what caught my attention was a recipe for beer pancakes. Basically, the recipe calls for using a mix and substituting beer for the water, also including some oil or grease. But the author insists that Olympia beer must be used and that no other beer may be substituted. Hmm. They claim to have tried using a different beer that didn’t work as well, but neglected to tell us which beer they tried. As long as you use a beer similar to Oly, I really can’t see it making much of a difference.
Even Olympia beer, of course, hasn’t really been Olympia beer for at least four years, when SABMiller closed the old Tumwater, Washington brewery on July 1, 2003. Since that time it’s been made at any number of Miller breweries dotted throughout the west. Before that Olympia bought Hamm’s and Lone Star, but business continued to decline and the family (the Schmidt’s) decided in 1982 to sell to G. Heilemann, then one of the largest brewery businesses in the U.S. The following year, Pabst bought Heilemann, who later sold it to Stroh’s, which itself was eventually bought by Miller Brewing. Union politics probably led Miller to close Olympia, who by then was also brewing many other regional brands such as Hamm’s, Lucky Lager, Henry Weinhard and Rainier.
Olympia beer — than and now — is one of dozens of regional American-style light lagers that are all but interchangeable. What makes any of them unique has more to do with marketing and perception than reality. People don’t buy Olympia because it’s good, they buy it because it’s cheap. As pointed out by The Snitch (a blog at SF Weekly) Olympia beer is the “Offical Beer of 18-year-olds Walking Through the Door, Hoisting a 12-Pack Overhead and Shouting ‘Woo-Hoo!'” The Snitch tried Dulas’ recipe, both with Oly and Henry Weinhard’s Blue Boar Ale, perhaps not realizing the Henry Weinhard is an “ale” and Oly is a “lager,” concluding that the Oly was discernibly better. I’m still willing to bet any cheap lager will make the pancakes taste exactly the same.
The Snitch also wonders aloud (a-print just didn’t sound right) what the pancakes might taste like if made with “Pyramid Apricot Ale or Bass Peach Ale?” I’m not sure there’s enough apricot flavor in the Pyramid to give the pancakes any sweetness. The Bass suggestion is a complete bust, of course, because there is no such beer. The Snitch also ruminates over “Cranberry Lambic,” by which I presume he means Samuel Adams’ version of a lambic. And lastly, he believes Arthur Guinness would “come back from the dead and stop you” if you tried using his stout. I’m not sure why he feels so strongly about Guinness given that it has been used successfully in cooking for centuries. Despite being dark in color, it’s quite light-bodied and thus might work quite well in pancakes.
Certainly, the notion of taking the idea from the campground into the kitchen is an intriguing one, as is using different beers. For that to work best, I think, you’d have to throw out the mix and make the batter from scratch, however, and use richer beers to have them actually affect the taste of the pancakes beyond fluffiness and texture. Would the yeast in a bottle-conditioned beer contribute anything? [Lucy, Bruce, Sean – anyone know?] It could be fun to use something like Marin’s Blueberry Ale or a syrupy wood-aged beer.
Perhaps it was because I was hungry when I first read the article, but I think I’ll be giving it a try the next time I make pancakes. If you try it, too, let me know the results. Post a comment with the beer you used and how the pancakes tasted. Let’s build a beer pancake database.
Steve Dulas’ World’s Best Pancakes
(Photo by Mike Lucia – Tribune Staff)
The preferred beer is Olympia. Any other American beer will likely mess this up — seriously. The morning we ran out of Oly and used another brand, the pancakes were not as tasty.
1 2-pound package Krusteaz Buttermilk Pancake Mix
4 to 6 12-ounce cans Olympia beer
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
While the grill is heating to medium, pour pancake mix into a large bowl. Add beer, one can at a time, until the batter reaches a smooth consistency. When a few drops of water dance and sizzle on the grill, it’s ready. Wipe the grill with a thin coating of oil or grease on a paper towel, then drop batter onto the grill, about a half-cup per pancake. Cook about 2 minutes, and flip each cake when the top is covered with air bubbles. Cook another minute then serve. Makes 40-50 4-inch pancakes.
Note: If you’ve got a lot of campers you might want to graduate to the 5-pound package of Krusteaz and use more beer, up to a full 12-pack.
Gabriel Martinez says
I’ve yet to try this pancake recipe, sounds tasty though –
Stan Hieronymus says
Jay – A point of emphasis in “Brew Like a Monk” (OK, I apologize for touting my own book) was that Belgian brewers talk often about making sure a beer is “digestible.”
To make this point, Laurent Demuynck, a Belgian native who heads Duvel Moortgat USA, said with all seriousness: “For breakfast, I put Duvel in my waffle batter … Lightens it up.”
I think that is the point of using any beer in making waffles. Personally, I favor one with good flavor (like Duvel).
Sean Paxton says
Hmmm, Olympia vs. Duval… Can’t say I remember the last can I had of Olympia, but I have made Belgian Waffles with a Tripel before, and they were good.
I like Stan’s idea! But a Barrel Aged Barleywine turned into a syrup would be great. Good idea Jay. When’s breakfast?
Pretty funny that they insist on Olympia and the pancake mix… I think a lager would be better, adding that crisp note that only a pilsner can. But it does bring up the debate of what is the best beer to have for Breakfast!
Sean Paxton says
But with regards to the yeast in the bottle, if the bottle of beer was fresh and you let the batter sit for at least and hour, it might act like a sourdough pancake. Yet, the carbonation will also help make a lighter batter and letting it sit will lose that extra fluffy help from the co2.
Bob Skilnik says
“Before that Olympia bought Hamm’s and Lone Star, but business continued to decline and the family (the Schmidt’s) decided in 1982 to sell to G. Heilemann, then one of the largest brewery businesses in the U.S. The following year, Pabst bought Heilemann, who later sold it to Stroh’s, which itself was eventually bought by Miller Brewing. Union politics probably led Miller to close Olympia, who by then was also brewing many other regional brands such as Hamm’s, Lucky Lager, Henry Weinhard and Rainier.”
Not quite. Pabst never bought Heileman.
The Heileman, Pabst, Olympia Swap-a-Thon
After the G. Heileman Brewing Company opened up a Governmental Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. to lobby legislators and regulators, things started to turn around in the episodic battles between government officials and Russell Cleary’s dreams of nationwide expansion. In a multi-stage series of negotiations, mergers, spin-offs and outright swaps of breweries that quietly began in the late fall of 1982, G. Heileman and Pabst announced at 12:01 A.M., December 23, 1982, that the merger of the two breweries was proceeding. G. Heileman had acquired and retained over 6.5 million shares of Pabst stock. With this stage of the deal complete, Heileman would now control a part of Pabst and, in a step-two move, also pick up a portion of Olympia Brewing Company assets, with the remainder of Olympia going to the “new” Pabst. Pabst had already made a prior tender offer to Olympia on June 1, 1982, picking up forty-nine percent of Oly’s common stock.
This particular part of the swap-a-thon, however, caused a later problem for G. Heileman in mid-1983. The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Heileman, charging the brewery with buying 105,000 common shares of Olympia after Cleary had received advance information on April 19, 1982 from Robert Schmidt, president of Olympia, that Pabst was ready to make a move to acquire his Washington-based brewery. Heileman settled with the S.E.C. and paid a fine of $916,378 but neither admitted nor denied the charge of insider trading.
When this part of the takeover was completed, Heileman would own the Pabst brewing plant at Perry, Georgia, the old Blitz-Weinhard Brewery in Portland, Oregon, and the Olympia-owned Lone Star facility in San Antonio, Texas. With the possession of these breweries, the La Crosse operation would own the following brands; Blatz and its popular-priced brands, Henry Weinhard, Private Reserve, Red White & Blue, Burgermeister, Lone Star, and Buckhorn. Heileman also picked up a quick $30 million in the deal.
With these acquisitions, Heileman now had an overall brewing capacity of 25 million barrels, a bigger presence in the South where they thus far had only two-percent of the market, and an extraordinarily large group of 2,400 distributors to funnel a wide variety of products to thirsty customers.
The “new” Pabst would continue to brew and sell the P.B.R. brand, Jacob Best Premium Light, the malt liquor Olde English 800, and its Andeker Super Premium, and would pick-up the Olympia and Hamms brands. Pabst would also continue to own the Milwaukee plant, the one in Newark it had been trying to unload, Olympia’s Washington facility, and Oly’s plant in St. Paul, Minnesota—the old Theodore Hamms plant. After the dust cleared, Russell Cleary said of the successful merger, “Now we can all get back to what we do best and that is sell beer.”
There was one problem with this realignment of brewing companies, however. Pabst already had a presence in the Midwest market with its Milwaukee plant. The St. Paul plant, picked up from Olympia, was geographically redundant. Pabst had also lost a presence in the South when it gave up its Georgia plant.
In the meantime, Stroh Brewing Company had a problem with its Tampa, Florida plant. As a stipulation to acquiring Schlitz, Stroh had agreed to a 1982 federal court order to divest itself of a plant in the southeast to win final approval from the federal government.
The solution to the dilemmas faced by Pabst and Stroh was solved in a government-sanctioned agreement by the two brewers to do a straight swap of their problematic plants. In doing so, Pabst regained a southeastern regional presence after losing its Georgia operation. Stroh, in the meantime, had been trucking its flagship product and the acquired Schlitz brands from its Detroit and Memphis breweries into the Twin Cities market at considerable costs.
The acquisition of the St. Paul plant took care of this financially-draining transportation problem for Stroh and thus began the first round of that perennial question by U.S. beer drinkers—“Which brewery owns what?”
Joel Hansen says
I was born and raised in Olympia and lived the first 18 years of my life 1 mile from the Olympia Brewery, but we always made our pancakes with Buckhorn. Olympia was for drinkin’.