The band Youth Brigade once asked “Where are all the old man bars?” I want to know where all the old man beers are.
Pabst might rule the hipster heap when it comes to tall-boy and cheap, but there were, not too long ago, a nostalgic pile of the regional classics from which to choose. Chiefly they were the breweries that not only survived Prohibition’s dark days but forged an identity with their regions.
Burgie!, Hamm’s, Olympia, Falstaff and Blatz all enjoyed decades of success while bringing lager to the thirsty masses of blue collar schleps in search of a cold one after a hard day’s toil. Eventually, these stalwarts of middle-American brewing were acquired by the mega-corps only to be shut down. Some survived for a little while as a kitch offering within the portfolio… most were lost forever.
There were some that were just too dearly-missed. Having made a tidy sum and pining for the older days, select individuals stepped forward and managed to secure the original recipes and rights to brew these almost-forgotten beers. Narragansett in Rhode Island is one such brewery. Others were resurrected recently in the wake of the Russian beverage group Oasis’ buyout of PBR and all of the brands once owned by Pabst. Olympia is beginning to make a comeback via Miller-Coors’ California plant.
Berghoff Brewing was one of those old man beers. The brewery was born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1887. It didn’t take long for the three German brothers who opened it to find acclaim and their production jumped by 80,000 barrels the first year. They managed to remain open during Prohibition by churning out a root beer-like soda and a health tonic. Eventually, they were purchased by one brewing corporation after another until coming to rest with General Beverage Distributors in 1994.
Craft beer was beginning to learn how to walk and Berghoff’s early-American-influenced adjunct style was seeing stagnant sales. Very recently GBD made the decision to re-vamp its nostalgia value with a hearty dose of modern moxie. Consulting with Randy Mosher from Chicago’s 5 Rabbit Brewing and John Hannafan from the prestigious Siebel Institute – the Harvard of beer schools – Berghoff took the original German flavors it began with over 120 years ago and time-traveled them to the 21st century.
Case in point is their Reppin’ Red Ale. A 7-malt foundation builds a sweet/spicy profile while decidedly non-European hops balance things out with the signature Pacific Northwest combo of pine, citrus and flowers. Reppin’ has a nice copper hue with a slightly rocky head that recedes to an ever-present cap. There are loads of caramel crème on the nose with some leafy hops and a touch of orange blossom. Flavors of toasted nuts instantly vie for attention with hop bitterness finishing out with tones of rye, spruce and lemon rind.
Kind of like the Benjamin Button of beer, this old man done grown up into quite the youngster!