Just back from four exciting days in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

A close family member was married off, the kids saw the Rock, and we all went into Boston.

Sadly, it was not a fully successful trip for me: There’s a holy grail in New England I couldn’t quite get my hands on.

Those of you who know New England know the storied past of Narragansett Beer. Brewed in Rhode Island, it was the dominant beer of southern New England between the end of Prohibition and the early ’80s or so.

The company sponsored Boston Braves and Red Sox broadcasts for many years, making its name and slogan (“Hi, neighbor, have a ‘Gansett!”) familiar to millions.

The beer is also visible in the movie “Jaws,” in a scene where Robert Shaw’s crusty Captain Quint crushes an empty can of ‘Gansett in his fist.

In the ’80s, the brand changed hands, the old brewery closed, sales declined and the beer disappeared. Then, maybe 10 years ago, new owners relaunched the brand.

Unlike other historic beers that have changed hands — Ballantine Ale comes to mind — the new ‘Gansett might actually be better than its predecessor. I’ve never seen a kind word said about the old ‘Gansett, but I’ve heard the new version is pretty good for what it is.

(The new ‘Gansett, strictly speaking, is not New England-authentic; it’s contract-brewed in Rochester, N.Y. But since that’s my hometown, I’m OK with it.)

Anyway: In some sort of cross-promotion with “Jaws,” the brewery recently announced that it’s bringing back its distinctive 1975-style yellow, orange and red cans this summer.

They could not have devised a better promotion to draw me in. I’m a sucker for southern New England, for nostalgia, for history as lived by the average Joe, and for beer.

“Jaws” also happens to be one of my favorite movies.

So, as the kids on the Internet say: WANT.

I eagerly looked forward to some beer-hunting as part of this trip. But visits to five beer-and-liquor stores in the Plymouth area failed to turn up the old-school cans.

I think one of the stores might have had a 30-pack. It was hard to be sure from trying to peek inside the sealed package. At any rate, 30 cans were more than I wanted — especially considering the stuff was gonna spend six hours in a warm car on the way back to Pennsylvania.

All the ‘Gansett lager I could find was canned and bottled in the current packaging. While I wanted to try it, I was too stuck on getting it in the ’75 cans to want it any other way.

(On a secondary level, I was also disappointed not to find any of Narragansett’s porter, which is supposed to be good. I see now it is apparently a winter seasonal. Gonna have to go back when the snow flies, I guess.)

All is not lost for the beer hunter. I am going back to New England next month, and will renew my search then.

I’ll be in western Connecticut — the very edge of New England, and an area more aligned with New York City than Boston. So I’m not sure what the odds are that I will find my great white.

But I will take up the search with single-minded devotion. Quint would expect no less.

And until then, I will fill my glass with something else when I talk of home:

“Drink a good glass of beer.”

Last night I was ruminating about my ancestors — how they lived, what they liked and what they wanted out of life.

One thing I know for sure about them: They liked a good glass of beer.

When I went back home this past Christmas, I found out that some of them liked beer enough to make it themselves. In her ongoing genealogical research, my mom turned up a recipe for beer, handwritten by one of my great-grandmothers.

For a moment I entertained dreams of standing over a bottling line like the next Jim Koch.

(Koch, the founder of Boston Beer, started his company with Sam Adams Boston Lager — which he says uses an old family recipe left behind by ancestors who were professional brewers.)

I don’t expect to see my beer in bottles anytime soon. But when I think about the recipe, I do long to try it once, even though I’ve never homebrewed. I wonder how it tastes.

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Before I get to the recipe, a few words about the woman who left it behind.

Lucilla Jacob was born in New York City in June 1889. She was the youngest of seven siblings born to a father from Saxe-Coburg, Germany, and an Anglo-Canadian mother from Nova Scotia.

Apparently the family tree was not multicultural enough for Lucilla: She married Francesco Iacobellis, an immigrant from Puglia, Italy.  (At some point his last name was Anglicized to Jacobellis, as it remains today on that side of the family.)

Lucilla and Francesco moved to the South Bronx and had two sons — one of whom grew up (fueled by his mother’s beer, perhaps?) to be my maternal grandfather.

After spending most of her life in New York City, Lucilla died in November 1950 in Stamford, Connecticut, where both of her sons had moved. Francesco died there as well, in August 1955.

And now, her recipe …

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You can click this to view full-size, though I'll transcribe it below as well.
You can click this to view full-size, though I’ll transcribe it below as well.

How to make Beer

Put two gallons of water on stove and boil, when boiling add malt. Boil for 20 minutes stirring all the while.

Then add hops, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 lbs of sugar. Let this boil for 1/2 hour, mixing all of the time.

Strain the above into a tub which contains 3 gallons of cold water. Add 1 yeast cake which must be dissolved and stir.

Keep in warm place and remove the foam 3 times a day for 3 days.

Place two tablets of (Lipp? Fipp? Zipp? Li’l help, homebrewers? Some sort of priming or carbonating agent, I assume) into large bottle and pour beer into bottle. Leave for 1 week and drink a good glass of beer.

# # # # #

Even to someone with no brewing experience, this raises as many questions as it answers …

– I believe ale is warm-fermented and lager is cold-fermented; so based on the instructions, I think what we’re making here is an ale. I think.

– Does this recipe predate Prohibition, or postdate it? Did Lucilla learn this from her German daddy, or from some neighbor whose apartment smelled suspiciously of hops one afternoon in 1930 when Lucilla went to borrow a cup of sugar?

– Speaking of which: Two pounds of sugar? Really?

– Note no quantity of malt. I’ll guess wildly that the package of malt included the correct amount, and that “add malt” was just shorthand for “add one bottle of malt,” or “one sack of malt,” or whatever. If I were to reverse-engineer this recipe today, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out the right quantity of malt for five gallons of water, anyway.

– Also note no quantity of hops — a detail that would make it impossible to exactly nail Lucilla’s homebrew today. I wonder how much she used, and where she would have obtained them, and what kind.

(It doesn’t say “add Saaz hops,” or “add Tettnang Tettnanger hops,” or “add Cascade hops” … just “add hops.” I doubt there was much of a selection available back then, anyway, given that homebrew might or might not even have been legal. There’s probably a website that can tell me what hops people had access to, back in the day.)

– I’m trying to picture the “tub” in which Lucilla made her beer. I notice she never said to cover it … maybe she was making some gonzo Bronx equivalent of those open-tank wild-fermented Belgian beers.

OK, I doubt that. I’m still picturing, like, a metal washtub holding the nascent beer, maybe with some dishtowels draped over it to keep the bugs out. Yeesh.

But, for all its humble origins, this recipe must be good. Lucilla told me so herself.

I wonder how it tastes …


I’ve enjoyed any number of Robert Christgau’s music commentaries over the years, even if I don’t always agree with him.

I was delighted, then, to find out that he and spouse Carola Dibbell once tackled my other favorite subject — beer.

In the May 1975 issue of Oui magazine, Christgau and Dibbell wrote a piece called “The Great Gulp,” including shorthand reviews of a whole bunch of American and imported beers.

I’ve long been interested in the American beer market before the craft-brew revolution. Those days are  frequently — though not entirely accurately — depicted as a bland sea of Old Milwaukee.

Christgau and Dibbell’s reviews probably aren’t representative of what the average American beer drinker could get in 1975.

It sounds like they combed New York City for everything they could find, then invited a couple out-of-town friends to fly in with their regional favorites as well. A more provincial city might not have had quite this much choice on hand.

Still, it’s an interesting firsthand look at what an earlier generation drank, and what they thought of it.

And you can read it here.

A few of my own thoughts:

Interesting to see a couple brews from Allentown’s late, generally unlamented Horlacher Brewery included in the roundup. Horlacher was already in its death throes in 1975, and would go under three years later.

Also cool to see Natick, Mass.-brewed Carling in the survey, even if it was lousy beer. I was in that brewery 25 years after the story ran; it had been converted to the headquarters of a high-tech company.

The mention of the old Coors cult makes me notice the absence of Yuengling on the list. Yuengling wasn’t a regional favorite in 1975; it was just an obscure family-run company hanging on in the middle of nowhere.

I love the line about first trying Pearl Beer in Big Bend National Park. Makes me want to stow a six-pack of something in a cooler and set out for the Great Outdoors.

Also love the reference to Stegmaier, the pride of Wilkes-Barre, as “a Pennsylvania cheapo.” It’s too bad Christgau and Dibbell didn’t try Stegmaier Porter, which for a number of years was the best beer you could find at less than $20 a case. (In their infinite wisdom, Steg’s corporate owners have since turned the porter into a seasonal release. I’ve not seen it in years.)

By my count, I have had 18 of the domestic beers mentioned in the article. Not too shabby. (Anyone got a can of Ortlieb I can try?)

Red ahead.

Clearly, the people at Genesee Brewery are big fans of Neck Pickup.

About two months ago I wrote a blog post about beers I’ve had that have since been discontinued. I had kind things to say about Genesee Red, a cheap but tasty lager that outclassed most of the rest of my hometown brewery’s offerings. Death was its final reward for living.

Genesee has been hitting heritage brands hard over the past year or so, producing a series of “Heritage Collection” cases that reintroduce retired brews.

And wouldn’t you know it, the fall Heritage Collection case (rolled out last month) features the return of Genesee Red.

Lest anyone accuse me of being all talk and no action, I went out earlier today and put my money — a rousing $13.24 of it — where my mouth is. And now I have eight stubby beer-grenades filled with a brew I didn’t think I’d see again.

Well, seven stubby beer-grenades.

How is it? 1997 all over again. Pleasant enough. Kind of blandly malty. The other seven will go quickly.

In addition to the undead Red, I also have eight stubbies apiece of:

– 12 Horse Ale (this was in my first heritage case; it’s not my favorite as it’s kind of oddly sweet)

– Fyfe & Drum Beer (a swilly long-dead pale piss-lager from the Dark Ages of American Beer. I haven’t had any yet, but I’ve already decided I like it because of the nostalgia factor, even though the original brand was probably only ever bought by one guy who died of cirrhosis during the Ford Administration. I imagine the empties clacking and rolling in the backseat footwells of his Ford Falcon as he drove unsteadily to the store to pick up some canned chili.)

A well-known financier.

So yeah, I’m kind of a big deal in the beer business.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, a new brewpub is struggling toward fruition. The owners are renovating a funky old hotel in the picturesque border city of Easton, and plan to serve site-brewed beer and semi-snazzy food. I find half of their business plan very interesting.

They’ve started a Kickstarter public fundraising campaign to raise money for their new tap system. Apparently they need money for it because the gutting and rebuilding of their space has cost more than they expected. (Hey, it happens.)

I had never contributed to a Kickstarter campaign, but this one caught my fancy.

I’m all for good locally brewed beer, and for entrepreneurship. This seemed like a chance to support those things in a more useful way than simply thinking good thoughts about them.

There are only two brewpubs in the Valley now, both operated by the same family. They do a pretty good job — their products appear in the “WHAT’S IN MY FRIDGE?” area of this site with some regularity.

But, a choice is always nice. And besides, maybe the presence of a competitor will inspire them to polish up those areas that could stand polishing (cough *slow table service* cough.)

So, for all those reasons, I gave in and made a modest pledge. Not nearly enough to take a serious bite out of their financial need … but enough to make me feel like the Jacob Ruppert of Cementon.

My understanding is that the restaurant only gets the Kickstarter pledges if it meets its goal.

As of now, it’s well short. So my venture into crowdsourced funding could end up being for naught, forcing me to seek some other way to put my money where my mouth is.

(Or, I could put it toward feeding the poor, or some other less self-centered investment.)

For now, though, I am imagining going into the place for my first pint, and looking around, and thinking in a totally exaggerated and undeserved fashion: “Yeah. I helped build this.”

The taste of ’95.

Most of the cuisine of my senior year of college isn’t worth revisiting.

Mostly I remember lots and lots of steamed rice with soy sauce, and too much macaroni and cheese from a box, not to mention lots of take-out.

Another staple of my kitchen table brought together two food items sacred to any college senior — beer and pizza.

Someone in the newsroom of the Boston U. Daily Free Press had lucked into a fact-a-day calendar put out by Samuel Adams, the hometown brewer that, in those days, was at the forefront of the developing craft-brew movement.

One of the page-a-day entries featured a dirt-simple recipe for thick-crust pizza.

All it took was white flour, wheat flour, baking powder and a bottle of Sam Adams Boston Lager, along with whatever toppings were desired.

The recipe, in my unsteady hand.

I didn’t often have Sam Lager in my fridge back then, due to its relative cost. But I always had beer — inoffensive pale golden beer, perfect for mixing into baked goods.

A little tomato sauce and cheese from the nearby Purity Supreme grocery store (dubbed “Poverty Supreme” for its general grunginess), and you had yourself a warm, filling, homemade dinner. Nay — a warm, filling, homemade pizza dinner with beer. What more could a 21-year-old wish for on a chill New England evening?

To this day, my wife and I still have that fact-a-day calendar entry somewhere in our recipe files. It pops up every couple of years.

And you know where I’m going with this: I got the urge into my head to make it again.

Even though I have come to strongly prefer crisp, thin-crust pizza. Even though I am no longer 21. And even though I should know better than to do stuff like this … I still wanted to do it anyway.

So, I provisioned myself today with the bare necessities, and set about cooking.

I should have opted for either Sam Lager (to be true to the recipe) or some trashy canned beer (to be historically accurate.)

Instead, faced with a dizzying variety of beer, I chose a decent-looking lager more or less at random — Frankenmuth Brewery Pilsener, from Frankenmuth, Michigan. I knew it wouldn’t be too hoppy, anyway, which is the biggest concern when you cook with beer.



The main ingredient goes in.
Jarred pasta sauce is true to 1995, though the Wegmans house brand is probably better than whatever I was buying then.


Ready for the oven. Yes, there are some onions scattered over one corner. I’m weird like that.

Thirty minutes at 425 degrees produced a nicely done if rather dark-topped pizza. (I seem to remember they looked like that in 1995, too.)

Done. (And poorly lit. It didn’t really look quite this diseased.)
Side-angle shot shows thickness of crust.

I thought it was OK, maybe even better than I remembered.

The crust was fairly light and not too bitter — it tastes a little of beer, but not in a bad way. The whole wheat flour lent the recipe a little bit of heft without making it leaden. The tomato sauce and cheese, meanwhile, were tomato sauce and cheese.

My kids weren’t totally sold on it; at one point my younger son referred to it as “gross-crust pizza.”  Most of the pizza in the pan — I’d say 85 percent of it — disappeared anyway.

I might actually make this again on some weekend night when I find myself short on inspiration and bereft of ingredients except cheese, sauce, flour and beer.

I couldn’t tell you anything I learned in my senior-year college classes, but I’m glad to offer you a quick and useful pizza recipe if you want it.

My parents must be speechless with disappointment.

Gone but not forgotten.

Professional obligations have prevented me from drinking beer for the past week.

So of course, I’m thinking about beer. Brown, amber or gold. Hoppy, mild or sour. Clear or cloudy; foamy or flat. Great flowing waist-high rivers of beer.

Beer, beer, beer.

Ithaca Nut Brown by the fire, summer 2012.

Since I can’t have any now, I’m looking back at what I’ve had in the past. And I’m especially thinking about beers I’ve had that aren’t made any more, that I couldn’t go buy off the shelf now even if I wanted to.

It would have been fun to keep a beer journal, so I’d have a definitive record of every brew that ever expanded my waistline.

Even without that, I can still remember some brands whose acquaintance I do not expect to make again.

Proudly we sound the roll call of the departed:

GoebelApparently the Goebel brand had a long, proud history in the Detroit area. By the time my brother and I bought some once, on impulse, sometime around 1993, it was just another grandpa-style canned beer.

I do remember thinking it held its own pretty well, compared to the other cheap canned beers I was consuming at the time. So, hooray for that much.

New Amsterdam Black & TanWhen I was in college, the arts section at my college paper traditionally held a beer tasting every May. We would give a particularly well-stocked Boston liquor store free advertising in exchange for an equal amount of beer. Then, we’d invite a few college-type worthies to help staff members do the tasting. It always started snarky and deteriorated from there, and it made for a hilarious article in the end-of-year issue.

I was managing editor in May of my senior year (1995), and exercised my editorial privilege to arrange and emcee the beer tasting.

It was the single most clement event of my college days, even better than graduation. Loads and loads of free beer, and — once the tasting was done — all of it mine to decide what to do with.

I drank a lot of beer over that two-day period, several brands of which are now defunct (Rolling Rock Bock, anyone?)

I don’t specifically remember New Amsterdam Black & Tan. But I’m sure it would have intrigued me enough to try, and the comments of the tasters indicate it was OK to pretty good. So I’m throwing it in here just as a placeholder for my happy non-memories.

At the beer tasting, wearing my St. Cloud State T-shirt.

Red, White and Blue – This stuff was pretty crappy, which didn’t stop me from drinking six cans in about two hours at a Fourth of July party in Boston back around 1995-96.

I then got on a jampacked T train that took about a half-hour to inch its way to the area of the fireworks. By the time I got off the T I could barely walk for having to piss; it remains quite likely the most physical pain I have ever been in in my life.

So, yeah. Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue.

Pilgrim Ale – It would have been 1997 or ’98 that my brother and an old friend came to visit me in the suburbs of Boston. They were going to some sort of chess tournament at the Boston Public Library that turned out to have been canceled when they got there. All part of life’s rich pageant, I suppose.

Anyway, we went out for beers. And instead of the familiar cans or bottles, we saw a curious-looking giant bottle of beer on the shelf. We took it home and shared it. (Yes, we poured it into glasses; we didn’t go at it hobo-style.) And as I remember, it was crisp, flavorful and refreshing, rather more so than whatever I was accustomed to drinking at the time.

The beer that first turned me on to fresh and local turned out to be Pilgrim Ale, brewed by Old Harbor Brewing Co. of Hudson, Mass. The company is long gone — close to 15 years gone, I think.

But nowadays, when I go to Bethlehem Brew Works and get my growler filled, I sometimes think of Pilgrim Ale in its unfamiliar big bottle. I can’t speak to their business practices, but the beer deserved better than obscurity.

Genesee Red For most of my life I have held a native Rochesterian’s dislike of my hometown beer.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I encountered Genny Red in the late ’90s or so. It was a reddish lager that drank nicely and actually tasted pretty good, in a post-lawnmower sort of way. Everyone has one or two cheap-but-tasty brews they like to keep around from time to time, and Genny Red became one of mine.

So then they went and got rid of it.

(While I am mentioning defunct Genny brands, I’ll also mention Michael Shea’s Irish Amber, which was the brewery’s bid to make something more middlebrow before it introduced its current J.W. Dundee line. I have no firm memories of Michael Shea’s, but I remember it was all over the place for a little while, so I’ll take credit for having downed one on some long-forgotten evening.)

1857 Stegmaier Porter, made up the road in Wilkes-Barre, was another cheap but flavorful beer that was a go-to of mine for several years after I moved to Pennsylvania. It stomped the better-known Yuengling Porter like a grape, and maybe still does; I’ve not had it in a while.

Anyway, it was probably the Porter that motivated me to try 1857 Lager, another beer in the Stegmaier stable, probably sometime around 2004 or so. 1857 was fizzy, apple-juicy and generally unpleasant, and I was none too regretful to find out it is no longer being made.

It was not, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, a very good year.

Troegs Rugged Trail Nut Brown Ale  It wasn’t that long ago that I held forth on the virtues of brown ale. And Harrisburg’s Troegs Brewing Co. made one I always used to love. It was flavorful and drinkable. And then, it was retired. (Only the good die young.)

Troegs is still around and seems to be doing pretty well. So I have hopes I’ll see this one again someday in my local beer store. At least, I hope it comes back before Red, White and Blue does.

Five For The Record: Brown ale.

A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Mellow, malty, generally uncomplicated fermented alcoholic beverage. Commonly associated with England.

Brown ale. To be specific, Bristlecone Brown Ale, brewed by Uinta Brewing of Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s 8:24 somewhere.

And here’s why I like it:

1. It’s historic. Malty, lightly hopped brown ales go as far back as the 1700s, and the style has been described as “probably one of England’s oldest beer styles.”

There are also references to brown ale in colonial American history — though it was apparently made with molasses, and was almost certainly a different beverage than the brown ale we know today. (An interesting digression into the history of brown ale in pre-prohibition America, complete with early beer ads, can be found here.)

When you drink brown ale, you are slaking your thirst as countless millions have before you … as, indeed, your great-great-great-great-great-great-half-uncle might have done after a long day in the colliery. He didn’t need no stinking triple-hopped jacked-up IPA to soak his throat.

If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

2. It’s rocket fuel for Anglophiles. The world’s most popular brown ale brand tells everybody it’s from England. Perhaps because of that, brown ale as a general style maintains a strong association with its mother country in most beer drinkers’ minds.

So if you like the Kinks or the Jam … or you own at least one football scarf … or if you know all the words to “Jerusalem” … or can spout “Goon Show” repartee or Peter Cook monologues from memory … or use the expression “innit?” a lot, without consciously thinking about it … or have a bottle of HP sauce in your cupboard … then brown ale is probably the drink for you.

(For the record, I meet four of the above six criteria. I’ll leave you to guess which ones.)

3. Chug all night. According to legend (translated: this may be bushwah, factually speaking, but I’m gonna believe it for the sake of this blog post), brown ale was developed as a comparatively lower-alcohol style with the intent that it be consumed in quantity without knocking the drinker under the table.

(A beer to have when you’re having more than one. Or a “session beer,” in beer-geek terminology.)

In other words, the stuff was purpose-built to fuel long nights at the pub with your mates, arguing about Notts County‘s latest midfield signings. That’s a pretty forward-looking, pragmatic piece of engineering, if you ask me, and highly commendable.

Since it’s low-alcohol, that also means …

4. … Tastes great, less filling. Want a lighter beer? You don’t have to settle for some watery megabrand sold to you by lowest-common-denominator advertising that insults your intelligence. Choose a brown ale instead, and enjoy an honest, flavorful beverage with deep roots.

Now, I should note that not all brown ales are lower in alcohol. That’s especially true in America, where the Young Turks of the brewing industry have never met a traditional recipe they couldn’t sex up.

(Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Brown Ale, for instance, is 5.6 percent alcohol, whereas your garden-variety Budweiser is 5 percent. Brooklyn Brewing does good stuff,  and I’m sure their brown ale is worth the price of admission; I’m just compelled to point out that it’s not lower in alcohol.)

But if you do your research and/or live near a good beer store, microbrewery or brewpub, you can find a traditional brown ale that’s lower in alcohol.

The Bristlecone Brown Ale pictured above is 4 percent alcohol by volume. That’s lower than Miller Lite, and a whole hell of a lot tastier.

5. It was Steve Marriott’s choice — or one of ’em, anyway. Brown ale’s greatest rock n’ roll claim to fame is its appearance in Humble Pie’s “Thirty Days In The Hole,” in which frontman Marriott declares: “Newcastle Brown / It can sure smack you down.”

The song’s list of indulgences also includes cocaine, hashish and pot — kind of strong company for a 4.7-percent-alcohol brown ale to be keeping.

I can only assume Marriott & Co. drank their brown ale the way they played their guitars — at serious volume.