Friday, July 8, 2011
I had a pretty good Coors beer tonight, Batch 19. I got the sample a few weeks ago: the embossed bottle nestled in excelsior in a shoebox-sized wooden crate...and the goofy-looking growler you see to the right. That's how it came: big mouth, and no cap. No lid at all. WTF? I Googled some Batch 19 press and event reports, and these dopey boogers apparently think a "growler" is a half-gallon pitcher. Bejayzus.
Anyway...The beer itself is actually pretty good. That's the real color, it's got real body, and there's an honest to God bitterness to it. The malt/"adjunct" character is the star, though, and it's pretty tasty. I had it with steamed shrimp and corn on the cob, and I'd definitely do it again. Put me in the mind of a Dortmunder Export.
As it happens, I interviewed Coors brewer Keith Villa (the creator of Blue Moon) about Batch 19 about a year ago, and since that article's been paid for a long time, I'll put it up here.
Why “Batch 19?”
Back in 2004 we had a small flood in the archives of the Coors brewery. They were in the basement. I stumbled on a box with the old brewer’s logbooks. The earliest was October of 1913, and they went right up to Prohibition in 1919. The early logbook, right before Prohibition, the beer was heavier, and had less adjunct, about 20%. When Prohibition was repealed, it went up to 33%. It was rice at the time.
They noted that they were using “Chevalier” malt. It’s a variety that was considered a high quality variety in the 1800s; it’s no longer available [geek excitement over Maris Otter and Golden Promise notwithstanding, barley varieties tend to come and go pretty quickly]. The hops were only noted as “imported” and “domestic.” Whoever took the notes had handwriting that was exquisite; it was easy to read all the numbers. The temperatures were all in Roehm degrees; I had to convert all of those. Little problems at first, got over them and made the beer.
“Batch 19” was inspired by that recipe. We literally can’t get the same ingredients. The only constant ingredient is the water; we’re still drawing from the same wells, drawing from the same alluvium. Adolph Coors was pulling from that, and he wasn’t pulling much, it was a spring. The big brewery is pulling it up now. Nowadays we technically have to call it Rocky Mountain well water! That’s the only consistent thing. The water is a little bit softer now, but it’s pretty close to what they were using back then.
Hops, we didn’t know what they were using. They didn’t note the variety of hops until the 1940s. Hops weren’t as afflicted by diseases and pests then, they were pretty hardy, and they stuck with the ‘noble’ varieties. So that’s what I did; I chose for the main hops Herrsbrucker, and Strisselspalt. It’s close to Herrsbrucker, but it has these notes of black currant; very hoppy with a bit a fruitiness. I stuck in a little bit of Cascade to round out the fruitiness. There’s a little Mt. Hood, and some Hallertauer Select. They added hops at the beginning, towards the end of the boil, and right before the end of the boil.
They didn’t measure the color of the beer back then, but I guess that it was a nice golden color. They used pale malt. If it wasn’t dark enough, they’d add a touch of caramel malt to darken it up a bit. I used the Moravian malt that we have, the Coors strain. We have a barley breeding program up in Idaho; they improve it every year. Then I put just a tiny bit of European cara-malt. It maintains the color of the beer, and adds a slightly more complex character to the beer. It’s fermented with the classic Coors yeast.
It’s fairly close… If there’s a bullseye out there to designate what beer was being drunk by people back in 1914 as Coors beer, we probably didn’t hit it, because the ingredients are different. But my guess is that we’re just outside that bullseye. I did a lot of investigative historical work to formulate it as close as possible to what they would have tasted back then.
It’s got a lot of hop character, a good lager character, and it’s a bright, clear beer. It’s not pasteurized, it’s cold-filtered. It’s a real nice lager, a pre-Prohibition lager. In 2008 it won a GABF silver medal. We just released it in 5 cities: Chicago, Milwaukee, DC, SF, and San Jose. We’ll see how it does. If it does well, we’ll expand it.
The stuff I’m doing and putting into the archives, I’m thinking they’ll be pulling them out in 100 years.
We’d played around with the recipes for a few years. The flood of 2004…it was minor, but it could have wiped out the records and we’d have had nothing. Let’s get serious. We served it in the private bar here for employees, and people loved it. We called it pre-Pro. The marketing people found out about it, and loved it: it was a real story. It’s been fun making it. It’s a historic beer, and I like the taste. If people want to look at the logbook, it’s right there. It had always been there, but no one’s ever brewed those beers for over 50 years. There’s other stuff there, too. They made a bock beer, and they made an export version, a stronger version of Batch 19.