Beer History

  • Return to the Golden Goodness of a Pilsner

    by Malia Paasch for HRGrowler

    When interviewing candidates at The Birch, one of the questions we ask is, “What is your least favorite style of beer?”

    Nine times out of 10 the answer is lagers and pilsners.

    It’s understandable. New beer drinkers often explore radically different styles from the normal macro lager offerings. However, most of my hires would now say they have developed an appreciation for craft-brewed lagers and pilsners.

    The main difference between ales and lagers is the yeast used to ferment and the temperatures needed to make magic. Lagers use bottom fermenting yeast that requires cooler temperatures. This slows the yeast’s activity, resulting in a longer maturation time.

    In other words, a brewery has to be willing to take up precious fermentation tanks for longer periods to brew a lager. This is one reason why a brewery’s initial offerings almost never include this style. But fortunately, the market has seen a rise in craft lager choices, giving us the opportunity to experience what a well-brewed pilsner should taste like.

    The style originates from a town called Pilsen, in the Czech Republic. In the mid-1800s, the Czechs experienced a decline in beer quality. So they built a brand new facility and hired a Bavarian, Josef Groll, as the brewmaster.

    Groll was tasked to recreate a brown Bavarian-style lager. Little did the Czechs know, Groll had smuggled some lager yeast from Germany with him, and in October 1842, the first golden pilsner was poured.

    The Czechs didn’t trademark this new style and brewmasters all over Europe started making their own interpretations. The two best known versions are the original, Czech pilsners, which are golden and have more sweetness, and German pilsners, which tend to have a straw-like color with more of a hop aroma and bitterness.

    So why are craft beer lovers reaching for pilsners more and more often? If you make enough rounds through the IPAs, stouts, and sours, you’re probably ready to experience the nuanced flavors of a pilsner with a new appreciation.

    So, if you haven’t had a craft pilsner before, I challenge you to try a few this summer and enjoy its refreshing golden goodness. Cheers!

  • Feed Your Need for Mead

    by Malia Paasch for HRGrowler

    Mead, one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world, has been mentioned in mythology and folklore, with mortals and gods enjoying its benefits. Some even speculate the beverage, also known as “honeywine,” is responsible for the term “honeymoon.”

    This dates back to when civilizations, such as the Babylonians, used lunar calendars. The bride’s father was expected to give a dowry to the couple that included enough mead to last an entire month. Because, of course, this magic elixir was not only an aphrodisiac, it promoted fertility. And if it was good enough – pure enough – a son would arrive nine short months later.

    Mead is still somewhat difficult to find, despite its status as the fastest growing segment of the American alcohol industry, according to the American Mead Maker Association.

    Most of the well-known meaderies are overseas, such as Dansk Mjod in Denmark and the Makana Meadery in South Africa. But lucky for us, Virginia has a few to boast about; many of them aren’t far away!

    Mead from Melo Lion Meadery in Yorktown and Black Heath Meadery in Richmond can be found locally, and mead from Silver Hand Meadery in Williamsburg is available on its website.

    Broken down, mead is simply honey, water, and yeast; many of its final flavors come from specific pollen. Die Hochland Imker, a meadery in Austria, places its hives in a lime grove, which produces mead that tastes like limes without ever adding a drop of juice. Other meaderies add fruits and juices. B. Nektar Meadery’s Milton’s Madness (reviewed next page) has lime juice and zest added to create a margarita flavor.

    Traditionally, mead has a bit of a syrupy mouthfeel and leaves a lingering honey sweetness on the
    palate. But the creativity of the mead makers has brought us many interpretations.

    And of course, just like beer, mead comes in a variety of different styles, including Melomel (made with fruit), Braggot (made with malted grain), Cyser (made with apples or apple juice) and Metheglin (made with added spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves).


    Mead is a great addition to any meal as an aperitif or a digestif. It can be chilled or sipped at room temperature. And in cooler weather, it is nice to heat up and consume warm. Cheers!

  • God Approved Liquid Bread

    By Malia Paasch for HR Growler

    Lent for Christians is a time of repentance, reflection and self-denial. But what if I told you there is a beer you still can enjoy, and that hundreds of years ago it was a means for survival? 

    I’m talking about doppelbocks.

    Bock biers, which predate doppelbocks, are German dark lagers. They’re bottom fermented and have an average ABV of about 6 percent.

    The first bock is attributed to the Einbecker Brewery around 1348. The name is said to have originated because of the way Bavarians pronounced the word Einbeck. It sounded more like “Ein bock” which translated literally means a billy goat.

    Doppelbocks got their name from their higher alcohol content. In 1627 Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria invited some Paulaner monks to move to his country. The Paulaners, a branch of Benedictine monks from Italy, relocated to Munich and began brewing for the public.

    By 1774 they had crafted their own original beer recipe that was named SanctPaterbier, which later became Salvator, the Latin word for Savior. Father Barnabas was the original brewer and is the creator of what we now know as doppelbock.

    This beer became the benchmark for the style, and many breweries tried to emulate it, even calling it by the same name. This spurred a lawsuit forcing the other breweries to rebrand, resulting in many of these beers carrying names than end with the suffix -ator. (Notice the following reviewed beer names.)
    During Lent, the Paulaner monks restricted themselves to a liquid diet and that is how doppelbocks were given the name “liquid bread.” In addition to water, the monks would drink the beer to sustain themselves: The beer contains nutrients including selenium, vitamin B, phosphorus, folate, niacin, protein, fiber and silicon.

    It became a custom that the first mug full of doppelbock for the Lent season would go to the Duke of Bavaria. He would be offered a toast, and while the Duke sipped on his strong brew, Father Barnabas would be allowed to speak his mind. This tradition is re-enacted today when the first keg of Salvator is tapped to mark the middle of Lent.

    So, there’s no need to give up beer for Lent. Actually, you may need the vitamins. Cheers to liquid bread.