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Friday, July 8, 2011

Okay, but it's still the dumbest-looking growler I've ever seen

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 When Prohibition was repealed, it went up to 33%.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.

Why now?
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.


hiikeeba said...

This is the kind of thing that i find interesting. We can get an idea of what Pre-Pro beer tasted like. I hope it does well for them and it gets to Texas.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I like some Coors brews.

Seeing the word 'good' and 'Coors' in the same sentence brought me a grin.

The Beer Nut said...

As far as malt goes, Golden Promise is a relative newcomer too, of course. The result of atomic experiments in the mid-1960s.

JessKidden said...

Villa's kinda unclear about the actual date of this "19" recipe, but after 1917, under a Wilson proclamation via the Lever Act, all US beer had to be under 2.75% abw- the so-called "War Beer" allowed under Wartime Prohibition that was a grain rationing measure, rather than social engineering. Most US brewing would end by late 1918.

Seems picking that "19" name continues the myth that Prohibition happened overnight- one day legal "regular strength" beer, the next day- outlawed.

Also, Colorado itself had statewide Prohibition starting in 1916. Not sure if those states allowed breweries to operate for out-of-state shipments but most Coors' history suggest they were converting to near beer and other products by then.

[I know, kinda "geeky" to think that the PR guys at a national brewery would worry about historical accuracy...]

Also, does "It was rice at the time.(Repeal)" imply that Coors Banquet no longer uses rice as it's adjunct? Coors used to heavily promote it's use of rice ( much as A-B did for Budweiser) but current info on the 'net and elsewhere avoids the topic (or only mentions "grain") from what I've seen.

sam k said...

Couldn't tell you the last time I had a Coors product, but I'd sure as hell give this a shot.

Kinda reminds me of the recent attempt to recreate Tennessee Brewing's Goldcrest 51 at a TN brewpub after the original recipe was discovered.

This also helps put to rest the old "we've never changed our product in 150 years" crap. Every photo of beer I've seen from pre and immediately post-Pro has shown a darker liquid in the glass.

I'm with Jeffrey...I love this kind of stuff!

Steven said...

"It was rice at the time." Is it rice today? I'd like to try this brew, but malted rice does not effect me well.

Lew Bryson said...

Don't know. He was not big on maltbill details.

sam k said...

Steven, I'm pretty sure that generally, the adjunct grain is not malted. How do you do with unmalted rice? :-D

Steven said...

"Steven, I'm pretty sure that generally, the adjunct grain is not malted. How do you do with unmalted rice?"

Sam, the "malted" rice to which I refer is that used in A-B Budweiser, maybe I've been wrong all this time and it isn't malted? Figured it would have to be to get fermentable sugars.

I've also had trouble with Capital, of Wisconsin, Wild Rice Beer, though not as bad a reaction. Probably not as rice-heavy.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lew sure if it were a Miller product as in Miller Philadelphia market your opinion of this slop might be different but again sure no one has ever acussed you of ever being biased toward a beer brand especially if they were samples..

Lew Bryson said...

Still running with no internal editor, I see.
If Miller sent me anything worth a damn, something this good, I'd be happy to say so. But I got the Miller Lite "craft" beers, which were pathetic, and Miller Chill, which was a good idea waiting for better execution -- hello, Bud Light Lime. Miller has a great product in their archives: Miller Reserve, which they tried in the mid-90s, and was actually a pretty good line of beers. But when you've got a company head who says that the craft beer "surge" will "inevitably" fade, what can you expect.
When Miller sends me a good beer, I'll give it a good review.

Steven said...

Uh, Miller and Coors are one now -- doesn't that make this a good beer received from Miller?

Sort of?

Anonymous said...

Steven, to further complicate things, wild rice is a different type of plant than rice -- they're distant cousins.


Lew Bryson said...

Yeah, kind of...not. The joint venture is only in the US, and it's strictly a sales/distribution thing, as I understand it.

This guy is torqued up because he thinks I'm favoring Coors over Miller because I write for the newsletter of the local Coors house -- which I do, and get paid for it, and have made no secret about it (and it cost me one high-profile gig...but that's life) -- but the facts are that Miller just hasn't done anything that interesting. Coors has. Also, the idea that I'd bother to do a good review of something just to keep the flow of "free beer" samples coming is so ridiculous it's not even insulting.

Lew Bryson said...

Good questions, JK. I would suspect that it just says "grain" anymore because it varies according to prices...

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve
Bingo they are one UH,but in the Phila market where you have the same parent and different brothers if you get my drift what seems the same is not.Yes the beer is Millercoors so why the hell is it not Miler Batch 19 the way it was talked about one year ago does that answer your question of Miller not comning out with anything new Lew.
No I have to much respect for you and your rantings to even think you would ever write a good review of a certain beer for a few beers.As for the merger sales and distribution thing my ass its to merge or consolidate the wholesalers so sales and marketing monies are best spent going to war with Ab-In-Bev.
The Best part of this story is when Millercoors consoldates there wholesalers they will sell their spoils to Molson get out from under their agreement which expires in a few years and Sab and Ab-Inbev will be one,only thing left is who will buy who.
Craft Industry if not already swallowed up by these monopolies or are not apart of this company just maybe the guy from Miller knows what the heck he is talking about.

Lew Bryson said...

Check it out, guys; he sends stuff like this all the time. Most times I reject it -- anonymous rantings -- but I thought you might get a chuckle out of this one.

Steven said...

"- anonymous rantings -"

It's amazing he spouts all that without a breath, but when you see he makes shortcuts, like Miler and no punctuation, you realize how he squeezes it out.

"Craft Industry if not already swallowed up by these monopolies or are not apart of this company just maybe the guy from Miller knows what the heck he is talking about."

Wow. I mean, huh?

JessKidden said...

"(MillerCoors joint venture) ...strictly a sales/distribution thing."

They also brew each others' beers in their respective (former) breweries now - both local papers in WI and CO and the beverage industry press had articles about it when it started (can't find any of the links this morning, however after a quick Google).

In fact, it was mentioned in the article about the new brewer DFH hired from M-C that he previously brewed Blue Moon in Miller's Eden, NC facility.

I think the only beer that's unique to one brewery in Coors Original/Banquet which only comes from Golden, CO to maintain it's "Rocky Mountain" image - and since sales have plummeted so much for it, there's probably little demand for it to be brewed elsewhere.

(Altho' didn't they supposedly ship high gravity Coors to the VA plant for dilution and packaging, before it was a full-out brewery?),

Anonymous said...

Hey jess, Do you see the Miller/Coors relationship as similar to that of the Metropolis Trenton/Norfolk relationship?

sam k said...

Jess, that was Coors Light.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous rantings
Reading his stuff is no easy task.He tends to fire off sentence in machine-gun- like bursts,without anything resembling a pause for punctuation.Words like consolidation and wholesalers and wolves at the door run together into a verbal blur.For someone with such clear ideas,he can be almost impossible to understand at times.His mind is always outracing mouth.Must be in the Beer business with an axe to grind.

Jeff Renner said...

I'm behind on your blog, Lew, so I just found this one. I'm pleased to see a larger commercial brewer brewing what I called a Classic American Pilsner in an article in BrewingTechniques in 1995:

I updated the topic in Zymurgy in 2000:

There have been some good examples brewed as occasionals by different craft brewers and brewpubs, and by a new micro in the bay area a few years ago, but despite it being a very popular beer with homebrewers, it hasn't caught on with larger breweries.

Jeff Renner said...

@ Steven - Adjuncts (corn and rice) in beers like this are cooked first to render their starches available to malt enzymes, then added to the main mash. They are definitely not malted themselves. There is a description of this process, called a cereal mash, in the side bar of my 2000 Zymurgy article (see link above).

Anonymous said...

Hey Pumpkin tried to buy you a beer at gabf but was to busy trying to get a few brands back here.Still think I am crazy and delusional check out todays Beer Business Daily In-Bev to swallow Sab Miller posted it here two months ago...Anonymous Rantings-how bout those gas prices..