Friday, September 19, 2014

OMSI After Dark ~ the citations

September 24th is a super fun day for OHBA — yes, it’s the OMSI After Dark Brewfest AND a game I’m calling “Beer Candyland.” Some of the photos aren’t actually ours so I need to cite my sources. That will happen here. 

Clues, pictures, and citations will be posted in this post next week, but for now it’s just a placeholder for the address on the poster… And an excuse to use this picture.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What I learned about the history of homebrewing

A couple of weeks ago I was researching and writing a panel for an exhibit that we’re installing in early October. It’s on the rural economies, with a definite DIY focus, and my section is on brewing. Surprise, eh? But I needed to write about brewing that isn’t done in a macro, micro, or nano brewery, but at home. This is what I learned (and what I wrote for the panel). 

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Brewing in Oregon has always been a local endeavor – with locally sourced ingredients and a pioneer spirit driving creativity!

Oregon’s commercial production of hops began in 1867 when William Wells of Buena Vista planted his first crop, and in the years that followed hop growing was a small family endeavor with less than 20 acres per farm. By the early 20th century Oregon was the top producer of hops in the nation – with growth even during Prohibition. Increased acreage meant an increase in demand for workers and harvest time was for seasonal laborers who flocked to the yards for money and those who wanted an escape from the city. Catastrophic mildew epidemics wiped out crops, contributing to the establishment of hops research programs on the OSU campus. The hop industry today is still a family endeavor, with most of the commercial farms run by third or fourth generation farmers, but look around residential lots and you’ll see hops grown for both home brewing and decoration.

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There is plenty attention paid to the contemporary craft beer movement in Oregon, but brewing in the state has a rich history with important trailblazers. However, many of those who made Oregon such a force in the international brewing scene started out as home brewers. In the pre-Prohibition era beer was made closer to home, on a smaller scale, and with local ingredients. The landscape was dominated by thousands of small breweries serving small batch recipes from lagers to stouts – regional styles and tastes reigned.

Did home brewing stop during Prohibition? Certainly not. 

Mother’s in the kitchen washing out the jugs,
Sister’s in the pantry bottling the suds,
Father’s in the cellar mixing up the hops’
Johnny’s on the front porch watching for the cops.
Prohibition song

Prohibition accentuated the “home” in home brewing, and though the intoxicants were illegal, the ingredients were not. Merchants were eager to supply malt extracts for “baking,” hops grew easily in Oregon and weren’t actually illegal, and yeast and water were easy to come by. Equipment like kettles were also accessible, but the sale of more specialized home brewing equipment (e.g. bottle cappers or tubing) actually increased in availability during Prohibition.

While their actions were obviously illegal, the ingenuity of the home brewer served those who wanted flavorful beer in the years after repeal. The battered beer industry struggled to regain its prominence, producing lighter beers and consolidating to form mega breweries. By 1978 there were just 45 commercial brewers in the entire country, down from 2,700 a century earlier. Enter the home brewer.

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After repeal consumption and manufacture of intoxicants was legal, but due to a technicality in the language of repeal home brewing was not. Though to some home brews didn’t hold a candle to mass-produced light and fizzy beers, in 1978 people were once again free to concoct their own with the passage of HB 1337. Those in Oregon soon found an audience for their flavorful beer concoctions. While not a home brewer, vintner Chuck Coury opened the short-lived Cartwright Brewing in 1980, offering tours and inspiration for home brewers interested in turning hobby into career. The Oregon Brew Crew, also anchored in Portland, was established in 1979 and is the oldest home brewing club in the state. Other regional clubs followed and brewing supply stores started carrying equipment to support the growing interest.

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This spirit of community support and commitment to education had a significant impact on the success of the craft beer movement in Oregon.

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Beyond clubs and community, modern home brewers also drew upon publications like Zymurgy and All About Beer. Also noteworthy is the place of Portland beer writer Fred Eckhardt in the growth of both home and craft brewing. He wrote about good taste and good practice, explaining home brewing in an understandable manner that focused on ingredients and methods. Ironically, his Amateur Brewer (1976-1985) newsletter and oft referred to A Treatise on Lager Beers (1970) were actually released before home brewing was legal!

It’s estimated that today over 1 million Americans homebrew and many are investigating a return to small scale hops production, returning us to a focus on local and personal production. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014