JIM CREES: Two centuries of brewing

Folks enjoying an evening of good food, great fellowship and fine beer at the 2012 edition of Germanfest in Big Rapids were treated to a number of authentic German beers obtained by arraignment with the Hofbrauhaus brewery in Munich, Germany. On tap were the Hofbrau original, the special Oktoberfest brew, a dunkel (dark) and a weissbier or weizenbier.

This was the seventh annual Germanfest held as a fundraiser at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.

What those sipping on these great examples of German brewing art may not have known is that they were actually enjoying a taste of history as well.

Germanfest is something of a salute to Oktoberfest – same time of the year, same styles of beer and the same good spirits.

In 1810, Oktoberfest was instituted as a local celebration of a wedding between the ruling families of Bavaria and Saxony. This party generated one of the longest, continuously running seasonal celebrations on any calendar.

The Hofbrauhaus team are especially aware of the importance of the autumn Oktoberfest celebrations.

In a release from Hofbräuhaus of America it is noted:

“On Oct. 17 in 1810, 40,000 joyous spectators flocked to a field outside of Munich to celebrate the wedding of Ludwig of Bavaria and Therese of Saxony – Hildburghausen.

“A horse race was held as part of the celebration. These festivities were repeated every year and became what is known today as the Oktoberfest.  The meadow was later named the Theresienwiese in honor the princess and is now no longer outside of Munich but in the middle.

“That was the meager beginnings of the first Oktoberfest.  Today it is the largest in the world with about 6 million attendees in the 16 days of operation. This year it will start on Sept. 18 and concludes Oct. 4.

“Besides Munich, the custom has spread around the globe and today there are hundreds of Oktoberfests.

“Hofbräu beer and its brewery in Munich are very much connected with the beginnings as well as today.  The bridegroom Ludwig was the owner of the Hofbräu Brewery. Today, still owned by the State of Bavaria, Hofbräu is one of Munich’s breweries and it has the largest tent at the Oktoberfest.  It holds 10,000 people.

“The only beer allowed to be served at the Oktoberfest in Munich by all Munich breweries, as directed by the City of Munich, is a pale lager with an alcohol by volume of around 6 percent.”

And then ...

In 1812, Bavaria’s King Max Joseph I declared that brewmeisters could sell beer where it was brewed and that accommodations could be made for the enjoyment of both beer and food on site at breweries. This decree gave birth to the idea of the biergarten – or beer garden.

Actually, public houses such as beer gardens, and beer cellars have a long history – much more than 200 years. What Max Joseph did was allow for the serving of both food and beer in one place.

Originally beer cellars were just that – cellars dug in the side of river banks to store beer in a more controlled, cool environment. But folks couldn’t wait to take the stuff home and drink it there. Soon a number of brewers in Munich began setting up a few tables or benches and offering a quick drink on site.

Typically being located outdoors, adjacent to the beer cellar, these became the first “beer gardens.”

They were wildly successful!

Today, the term beer garden or biergarten is widely used and anyone can call their pub or bar a beer garden, (too often not even knowing the roots of the word.)

The term “beer garden” has come to describe any ol’ outdoor area attached to a bar or pub where beer is served.

There really aren’t any good ol’ fashioned beer gardens that I know of in most of Michigan. It might be a weather thing!

I did have the pleasure of sitting in a great classic beer garden in Queens, N.Y., (Astoria actually), called the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. It’s apparently been around for a century and serves some pretty spectacular Czech beer in hefty pitchers for about $15.

There also was absolutely wonderful Czech food on the menu, (and I’m not even Czech.)

It was great fun – and jam packed.

The development of Oktoberfest and a decree a couple years later that in effect created beer gardens was monumental in the history of the brewing arts.

Those sitting at Germanfest in Big Rapids may not have realized they were not only supporting St. Peter’s and the school, but were also marking the bicentennial of the development of a place where people could eat, drink and share an evening of fellowship outside the home.

So ... a taste of history.

And now, this week’s research project.

Treasure Chest ESB

Schmohz Brewing Company

Grand Rapids

Schmohz is a smallish brewing operation located on N. Patterson just off 28th Street in Grand Rapids.

They have one heck of a beer list, and some impressive stuff. Very impressive.

Treasure Chest is a dark orange pour – almost amber in color. There wasn’t too much head, and what there was didn’t last too long a time.

In my usual schooner, this was a fine looking brew. Very inviting.

A first nose, there is a rich, almost spicy aroma supporting a complex mix of malts. There is a certain sweetness that can certainly be attributed to a well-considered malt menu. There is a hint of bitter hoppiness, but only as an afterthought.

A good wash introduces a refreshing balance of malty sweetness, (witnessed to in the scenting), and an almost floral element provide by the hops.

Treasure Chest is good stuff. There is body and balance. Nothing overpowering, but just enough of spice, fruit and floral hints to complement the maltiness and washes of light caramel sweetness.

This is a very refreshing brew with just enough of a difference in taste and lingering smell to keep you coming back for more.

After a serious exploration, this is the type of beer that could easily become a standard in any beer-loving household.

ESBs are English Special or Strong Bitters. This style of beer is often a bit more in-your-face than what Treasure Chest demonstrates – a little maltier up front, and a little fruitier in the background.

But not bitter. Despite its name, ESBs are generally not actually bitter.

Treasure Chest is very enthusiastically recommended.

Short’s Black Cherry Porter 

Short’s Brewing Company


I’m a big fan of Short’s. I love porter and I love cherries.

I was expecting a lot from this Black Cherry Porter. I’d heard a lot about it.

It didn’t deliver ... at least not for me. It could well be I was hoping for more.

Black Cherry Porter pours a very dark brown and brings a healthy light brown head that lasted a decent while.

There is a very malty aroma resplendent with the heady scents of roasted grains and delicious dark chocolate. There is a dark, smoky quality to this porter that is not at all unpleasant.

But ... despite repeated attempts, I couldn’t find the cherries.

Considering I love porters, Short’s offering was ... well ... not bad, but it was a bit of a let down.

There certainly is a well-considered grain list. There are hints of dark fruits – but those fruits have somewhat soured! In fact, I found the brew to be a little too sour, and I simply couldn’t find the cherries.

I couldn’t find the cherries and any fruity taste there was backing up the general smokiness of the porter was almost bitter.

Knowing and loving the Short’s menu, I was expecting spectacular.

This Black Cherry Porter wasn’t spectacular.

I wouldn’t write it off, but it was disappointing.