Thousands of U.S. soldiers depleted all of the beer in Icelandâ€™s capital over the weekend.
More than 6,000 soldiers were in Reykjavik for four days participating in the Trident Juncture 18 â€“ a NATO-led military exercise. After their drills, the troops reportedly visited the cityâ€™s downtown bars, where they finished off the entire beer supply.
According to Icelandinc magazine Visir, the brewery Ã–lgerÃ° Egils SkallagrÃmssonar had to send emergency beer cases to the bars.
Grub Street has bad news for the residents of Portland and Brooklyn.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Pabst Blue Ribbon and the term â€œhipsterâ€ were more or less synonymous. The watery budget brew was catnip for urban creatives, and business was thriving. In 2003, when the Times first took notice of PBRâ€™s bike-messenger cachet, the paper reported that sales had risen 5.3 percent the year before. It was the start of a boom. By 2009, sales were growing by 25 percent. In 2011, someone went on record with the Chicago Tribune to call it â€œthe nectar of the hipster gods.â€ David Chang put it on tap when he opened a Momofuku outpost in Toronto.
Despite the name of the Pabst Brewing Company, they donâ€™t brew the PBR that was beloved by everyone living in Williamsburg in 2009. For years, Pabst has outsourced its beer-making to MillerCoors, a relationship that has suddenly gone sour. The two companies are locked in a half-billion-dollar court battle that, some say, could spell the end of PBR, as well as many other beer brands that Pabst owns. Pabst currently pays MillerCoors nearly $80 million a year to brew its beer; MillerCoors says that, after 2020, it may no longer have the necessary resources available, and is threatening to let the contract expire unless Pabst agrees to a fee thatâ€™s closer to $200 million per year, an amount that Pabst contends would â€œbankrupt us three times over.â€ …
Pabst closed its flagship Milwaukee brewery in 1996. When Pabstâ€™s last brewery, in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, closed in 2001, it shifted brewing responsibilities to Miller. In the meantime, Pabst was also focused on buying plenty of beer brands that werenâ€™t PBR, including Lone Star, Schlitz, and Schaefer (â€œthe one beer to have when youâ€™re having more than oneâ€). â€œWe own 77 brands, and 50 of them are dormant,â€ current owner Eugene Kashper told a New Jersey paper in 2015. â€œWe have a virtual monopoly on American heritage brands.â€
What Pabst doesnâ€™t own is a brewing complex to make its beer. The company did recently offer $100 million for a shuttered facility in North Carolina, but that breweryâ€™s owner, which is â€” wait for it â€” MillerCoors, made a counter offer of $750 million, effectively ending negotiations.
Pabst is stuck. Its products are brewed, packaged, and distributed by a rival who seems to have no interest and, MillerCoorsâ€™s lawyers argue, no obligation to keep the relationship alive. Now, according to the AP, Pabst â€œis seeking more than $400 million in damages and for MillerCoors to be ordered to honor its contract.â€
John Ellis does not approve of drinking IPAs, Heineken, Yuengling, Blue Moon, or Guiness. Not one of these widely popular choices rises to his standard.
His analysis goes:
1) IPAs don’t taste like beer.
Well, they are all ales, not beers, and representatives of a distinctly different genre, liking which does represent a specific, idiosyncratic taste. It is, I think, possible to feel that there are too many IPAs these days and one IPA is pretty much like an other, except some are even bitter-er and hopp-ier than others.
2 Heineken is bland and is not really a superior beer.
Screw Heineken. They support Gun Control. I’ll never buy or drink another Heineken. But I will note in passing that what he really means by “bland” is that Heineken is a Pilsener-style pale lager, a type of beer that is not dark, heavy, full of floating debris, and loaded with complicated earthy tastes. in other words, not the style of beer beer snobs dote upon.
3. He doesn’t like Yuengling either because Yuengling is a reasonably priced lager.
He is just prejudiced against all lager beers and all mass marketed beers. Yuengling is really pretty neat and almost everyone likes it. Yuengling is the oldest brewery in America, dating back to 1829, and is still owned by the original family. It comes from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Schuylkill County, in the very heart of the Anthracite Coal Region, and today’s Yuengling, honest to God! tastes kind of like, only definitely better than, the Yuengling I used to find on tap for fifteen cents a glass in local bars when I started drinking as a teenager. It has a distinctive character and authenticity and it isn’t premium priced. Yuengling is a better beer than Bud or Michelob and it’s just as cheap. What does this guy want? An egg in his beer? as they’d say back in the Coal Region.
4. He’s down on Blue Moon because he allegedly knows of some superior Belgian-style wheat beers and you ought to be drinking those.
Jesus, this guy is a snob. Well, outside the Metropolis, we are lucky if we can find Blue Moon. Raised-Pinkie-Finger Craftbier witbier made in Florida, Maine, or Washington State is not likely to be found in your supermarket in rural Virginia or at the local beer distributor in Central PA. Besides, Blue Moon (though pricey) is actually pretty good.
5. Guinness is not stout-y enough.
Americans customarily drink light lager beers. Guinness is dark, heavy, and bitter and is an acquired taste for Americans. And, according to Ellis here, getting used to Guinness is simply not enough. You have to get used to drinking the kind of stout that you could grow plants in.
Frankly, all this pretension and display of connoisseurship is beside the point. It’s only beer. It’s not Premier Cru Bordeaux or Napoleon cognac. You drink a beer after mowing your lawn or while watching idiots run into each other in the Superbowl. Beer is never haute cuisine. Beer really belongs in the unpretentious, mass-marketed workingman’s realm.
This John Ellis guy ought to leave Brooklyn and walk into a bar in Minersville or Hazleton, order a beer, and then turn up his nose and start telling everyone how this stuff is swill and they ought to be drinking $25-a-bottle craft beers with stuff swimming in them made by monks in Belgium from a medieval recipe.
Inside the sunken schooner, they found 168 bottles of champagne and an undisclosed amount of bottles of beer. The ship itself likely dates back to the second quarter of the 19th century, making its cargo almost certainly the oldest alcoholic drinks in existence. By comparison, the oldest wines in private hands are only thought to date back to the very end of the 1800s.
This entire story is a good reminder of a basic scientific truth – when in doubt, start drinking the 200-year-old booze. The divers first discovered the champagne was drinkable when changing pressures caused the cork to pop off one of the bottles, and a diver decided to take a swig. He expected to taste seawater that had seeped into the bottle over the last 200 years – which raises very legitimate questions about just why he decided to take a sip in the first place – but was shocked to discover the wine still tasted fine.
The divers all had some of the ancient wine, and then resealed the wine and brought it to wine expert, or sommelier, Ella Grussner Cromwell-Morgan. Here’s how she described it:
“Despite the fact that it was so amazingly old, there was a freshness to the wine. It wasn’t debilitated in any way. Rather, it had a clear acidity which reinforced the sweetness. Finally, a very clear taste of having been stored in oak casks.”
Other descriptions that came out of a recent official tasting range from “lime blossoms, coffee, chanterelles” to ” yeast, honey and…a hint of manure.” Whatever the exact taste, the champagne was definitely significantly sweeter than what we’re familiar with today. While a modern bottle has about 9 grams of sugar, a typical bottle in the 1830s had 100 grams of sugar, and Russians were known to add an extra spoonful of sugar just to make sure it was sweet enough.
So how did the alcohol survive for so long under the sea? That’s actually the absolute best place to keep them, as champagne expert Richard Juhlin explains:
“Bottles kept at the bottom of the sea are better kept than in the finest wine cellars.”
We can only hope this starts off a craze of storing wine inside shipwrecks. If you really care about your wine, I don’t see any alternative. And it really was incredibly well-preserved – other than a loss of fizziness from the slow loss of air bubbles over the nearly 200 years, the wine tasted exactly the same as it would have back in the 1800s.
And what about the beer? The divers, for their part, say they’re more interested in the beer than the champagne, as wreck discover Christian Ekstroem comments:
“I don’t care so much about the champagne. Champagne we can only sell or drink up, but … we can use the beer to produce something unique and local. It’s historically meaningful.”
Ekstroem says the beer is just as phenomenally well-preserved as the wine. When one of the bottles cracked open on board their ship, the divers saw the liquid froth up just like a new beer would, indicating the yeast was somehow still alive.
We started last year with our first whale beer, Hvalur 1. The health department didnâ€™t want us to produce it at first, but we were allowed to. The beer used whale meal as an ingredient, and it was something new for Iceland. It sold out almost immediately. This year, for Hvalur 2, we wanted to keep the concept, but use a different whale ingredient. We decided to use fin whale [Balaenoptera physalus -JDZ] testicles.
How, exactly, do you brew with whale testicles?
We get the testicles frozen from the whaling company, and we have a licensed butcher chop it up for us to use. The testicles are cured according to an old Icelandic tradition. The testicles are salted, and then smoked with sheep dung. A whole testicle is used in every brewing cycle, and then the beer is filtered and pasteurized. We put a lot of effort into this, and itâ€™s a long process.
Whatâ€™s the beerâ€™s connection to Icelandâ€™s annual food festival, Thorrablot?
We wanted to create a true Thorrablot atmosphere that celebrates traditional Icelandic food. Every winter, Icelanders gather to eat traditional food that sustained our ancestors for generations. This is very popular here in the countryside, and we wanted the beer to be released at the same time of the festival. The dishes we eat include boiled sheep heads, liver sausage, ram testicles, fermented shark, wind-dried fish, smoked lamb meat, and blood pudding. We thought that Hvalur 2 would fit in well with Thorrablot by using an ingredient that is a little different.
Does the criticism from whale conservationists bother you?
It actually brings more attention to the beer, which is a positive thing. Most of the protests come from people outside of Iceland. People have to remember that the fin whale is not endangered in the North Atlantic, and Iceland is known for sustainable fishing and setting quotas for our whale hunt. Thereâ€™s actually a lot of demand for our beer to be exported, but there are laws that limit which countries can import it because of anti-whaling laws. The beer will sell out in Iceland, and people from other countries want a taste.
Zythophile remembers today the victims of the London Beer Flood which occurred 200 years ago today:
Wherever you are at 5.30pm this evening, please stop a moment and raise a thought â€“ a glass, too, if you have one, preferably of porter â€“ to Hannah Banfield, aged four years and four months; Eleanor Cooper, 14, a pub servant; Elizabeth Smith, 27, the wife of a bricklayer; Mary Mulvey, 30, and her son by a previous marriage, Thomas Murry (sic), aged three; Sarah Bates, aged three years and five months; Ann Saville, 60; and Catharine Butler, a widow aged 65. All eight died 200 years ago today, victims of the Great London Beer Flood, when a huge vat filled with maturing porter fell apart at Henry Meuxâ€™s Horse Shoe brewery at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road, and more than 570 tons of beer crashed through the breweryâ€™s back wall and out into the slums behind in a vast wave at least 15 feet high, flooding streets and cellars and smashing into buildings, in at least one case knocking people from a first-floor room. It could have been worse: the vat that broke was actually one of the smallest of 70 or so at the brewery, and contained just under 3,600 barrels of beer, while the largest vat at the brewery held 18,000 barrels. In addition, if the vat had burst an hour or so later, the men of the district would have been home from work, and the buildings behind the brewery, all in multiple occupancy, with one family to a room, would have been much fuller when the tsunami of porter hit them.
Just in time for yesterday’s St. Paddy’s Day celebration, Jeffrey P. Kahn, in the New York Times, cites recent theories that agriculture (and therefore civilization) developed earliest for the production of beer rather than food.
Human beings are social animals. But just as important, we are socially constrained as well.
We can probably thank the latter trait for keeping our fledgling species alive at the dawn of man. Five core social instincts, I have argued, gave structure and strength to our primeval herds. They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others, and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources.
Thus could our ancient forebears cooperate, prosper, multiply â€” and pass along their DNA to later generations.
But then, these same lifesaving social instincts didnâ€™t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation â€” the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization.
To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative â€” or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.