The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Sending Beer on a Zero Gravity Rainbow

Image via NASA Goddard / Flickr / Creative Commons

When and if commercial space flights become available, there’s going to be a beverage service. That’s the idea behind Astronauts4Hire‘s testing of a beer that could be consumed in zero gravity.

In its beer studies, the Florida-based non-profit is sending a specially brewed beer from Australia’s 4 Pines Brewing Co. aboard a Zero Gravity Corp. airplane. During Astronauts4Hire’s parabolic flight, the company will test everything from how the beer tastes to blood-alcohol content.

The end result of the tests should be a beer that can be served on commercial space flights like those being explored by Virgin Galactic or Space-X. Astronauts4Hire is hoping to train the first generation of private astronauts to work on those flights.

But in the here and now, I really do feel for the poor sod who has to suck down a beer on a parabolic flight. In order to achieve weightlessness, these zero-gravity planes fly in sharp angles up and then down, allowing for about thirty seconds of zero gravity at a time.

The problem, historically, with drinking beer in space hasn’t necessarily been one of sobriety but that carbonated beverages just make astronauts burp too much.

As New Scientist explains, “Beer is poorly suited to space consumption because of the gas it includes. Without gravity to draw liquids to the bottoms of their stomachs, leaving gases at the top, astronauts tend to produce wet burps.”

Another problem – which has been discovered in studies with soda – is that temperature fluctuations and changes in pressure can cause the carbonated bubbles to be released from the space-approved dispenser prematurely. Meaning – a big bunch of bubbles with froth and foam and collect in a cloud.

So in terms of beer, we’re not talking about a frothy head of beer pouring over the sides of your pint glass, but a giant cloud of foam squirting out of a beverage dispenser.

For you aspiring space brewers, a NASA study done in conjunction with the University of Colorado found that yeast ferments at a higher efficiency in micro-gravity environments, which makes the beer stronger.

Anyway, NASA has always maintained a strict policy of abstinence on its space flights and missions. Except for Buzz Aldrin taking communion after his moon walk, alcohol is verboten.

Drinking before a flight is a different story – yeah, NASA will fire ’em up to Soyuz even if they are wasted. Hell, drinking and space goes back to the birth of the U.S. space program. (You can get a taste of the drinking and driving and flying and exclamation marks in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.) Even so, the drinking and carousing was kept on Earth.

It’s a different scene in Russia. In Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars, she relates this anecdote:

“While I was in Russia, a cosmonaut, who requested anonymity, showed me one of his slides from space: two crew members with straws, floating on either side of a 5-liter tank of cognac like teenagers sharing a malt.”

But for those who can afford to be passengers on a space flight, the story is going to be a different one.

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Sampler Pack: Get the Astronauts Drunk

• The first beer to be certified OK for consumption in zero gravity is now being tested in weightlessness [MSNBC].

• New York Cork Report offers up this thorough and excellent profile of the Kelso Brewery in Carroll Gardens [New York Cork Report].

• The folks at the Brooklyn Brew Shop are setting pen to paper. Their book on homebrewing will be published by Random House in 2012 [Brooklyn Flea].

• In this experiment by Cooking Issues, both the legal and illegal methods of distilling alcohol are put to the test [Cooking Issues].

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Leonhard Michel’s Long-Forgotten Brooklyn Brewery

A forgotten brewery from Brooklyn’s yesteryear is the Leonhard Michel Brewing Co., which was located in Gowanus. The tale of Leonhard Michel comprises war beers, lawsuits against Yuengling, and the Ebling beer caves.

Leonhard Michel started out as the brewmaster at the David G. Yuengling, Jr. brewery in Manhattan. This was a production plant owned by the Yuengling brewery in Pennsylvania.

Michel worked at Yuengling until 1889 when he left to found the India Wharf Brewery on Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn.

After seventeen years at India Wharf, Michel opened a new plant on Bond Street in 1907. This plant was to be his crowning achievement.

The Michel plant as it was photographed in the 1970s for Breweries of Brooklyn.

As Will Anderson writes in the woefully out-of-print Breweries of Brooklyn:

“The plant was worth waiting for though: It was seven stories high, solidly constructed of traditional brewery brick and stone, had direct frontage on the Gowanus Canal, and contained the largest ice plant in Brooklyn! Capacity was 150,000 barrels a year.”

The new plant was never to achieve its promise. In 1919 the Volstead Act passed, thus making beer illegal to produce. At the beginning of Prohibition, the Michel plant employed 70 people.

In the same year Prohibition went into effect, Michel produced “war beer” that contained 2.75 percent alcohol by weight (ABW). Testifying before a senate subcommittee in 1919, Michel stated that workers in his plant could put back about twelve of these war beers during a shift and not be too intoxicated to work.

Today, most U.S. states measure alcohol content by volume (ABV). So a 2.75 percent ABW beer has 3.4 percent ABV, which makes it indeed a low-alcohol beer. Drinking one of Michel’s war beers would be about the equivalent of drinking a Yuenling Light (3.5 percent ABV). Putting down half of a case during a shift doesn’t seem all that unreasonable, really.

Many brewers made the same case for their beers while fighting the enactment of Prohibition. It didn’t matter. Prohibition caused a great many of these breweries to close down for good.

Michel’s plant survived Prohibition by brewing near beer. Leonhard Michel did not. He passed away in 1926, a scant seven years before Prohibition would be repealed.

After his death, Leonhard Michel’s brewery was purchased in late 1920s by Samuel Rubel of the Rubel Ice Company.

This is the Michel plant pictured in 2010.

In 1927, Rubel also gained control of the Ebling Brewing Co. located in the Bronx. Seeing a better future with Ebling, Rubel turned his attention fully to this brewery. The Michel plant shut down its operations in 1940.

The Ebling Brewing Co., as many New Yorkers might remember, had a lagering cave in the Bronx, not two miles from Yankee Stadium. The caves were rediscovered last year by construction crews working on new apartment developments. Seven man-made caves were found – some with electricity.

Ebling – and whatever remnants of Leonhard Michel still existed – closed in the 1940s. The Bronx plant was torn down sometime after and turned into a parking lot – leaving the empty caves as the only physical reminder of Ebling’s presence in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, the original Michel plant still exists. When Will Anderson visited the site in the 1970s, he observed that the newer Michel complex still boasted some painted lettering from its days as a brewery. (In the picture, it’s the little, yellowy building on the left of the Michel plant.)

On both street-facing sides of the building was lettering that read “EBC” (for the Ebling Brewing Co.), “That Grand Old Beer,” and “Since 1868.”

All trace of this lettering has long-since been removed.

The Leonhard Michel plant is currently empty.

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Little Brewery, Big Dreams of a Hop Bust

The hubbub today about beer distributors opposing California’s Prop 19, which would legalize marijuana, made me think of this anecdote by Anchor Steam‘s Fritz Maytag.

In this video produced by, Maytag relates a story about trying to get busted in the sixties with a bag of hops in San Francisco (skip to about minute 2:55 for the story, but the whole video is great):

In Maytag’s words:

“I had to drive through the Haight every night. I used to get hop samples that are green fluffy leafy things, and at one point I realized we are desperate for publicity and there’d be nothing better than getting arrested for having what would look like something green and leafy in my car and turn out to be hops. Y’know, false arrest. ‘Brewer is arrested for hops.’ In those days there weren’t any ‘little breweries.’ I mean, nobody had ever heard of anybody owning a brewery. let alone driving around with hops. I put hops on the passenger seat of my car. I had a little Porsche, and I drove home with the hops on the seat for – back and forth – at least a week, hoping to get arrested. Well, you couldn’t get arrested in the Haight-Ashbury in those days.”

Even without the bust, things ended up working out for Maytag and Anchor Steam.

Fritz Maytag is the great-grandson of Fredrick Louis Maytag who founded the Maytag Corporation. In 1965, Maytag purchased San Francisco’s Steam Brewing Company, which produced Anchor Steam Beer. At the time, Anchor Steam was known for being a godawful beer that was so bad, its brewery was on the verge of shutting its doors forever.

Maytag purchased the company, changed its recipe and brewing process, and took his “little brewery” to the big time. His success helped inspire many the craft beer movement in the seventies and the creation of many microbreweries throughout the U.S.

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Brewers Staying out of Marijuana Legalization Debate

In California, beer distributors are getting together to oppose the proposed legalization of marijuana.

On the ballot in California this November will be Proposition 19, a measure that would legalize marijuana and allow it to be taxed and regulated. California Beer & Beverage Distributors have contributed $10,000 to a committee that opposes Proposition 19, reports the Redding Record Searchlight.

The donation went to Safety First, the main coalition opposing Prop 19.

“Unless the beer distributors in California have suddenly developed a philosophical opposition to the use of intoxicating substances, the motivation behind this contribution is clear,” said Steve Fox, Marijuana Policy Project government relations director in a press release. “Plain and simple, the alcohol industry is trying to kill the competition.”

Two law enforcement agencies that oppose Prop 19 include the California Police Chiefs Association, which has donated about $30,000 and the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, which has donated about $20,500.

Meanwhile, California brewers such as Sierra Nevada and Stone Brewing Co. took to their Facebook pages to release statements saying that neither company supports this campaign.

“Stone is not a part of this campaign in any way,” said Stone Brewing. “This issue has caught us of off guard. We are merely a non-voting Allied Member of the CA Beer & Beverage Distributors (CBBD). As such, Stone Brewing does not/cannot participate in the political action decisions of the CBBD.”

In its statement, Sierra Nevada also clarified its position.

“Although we are members of this organization, we were neither consulted – nor informed of – their decision to take a stand against California Proposition 19. Sierra Nevada’s role as an associate member grants no access or influence on the political agendas of the CBBD, and we had no knowledge of the organization’s intention to fight this ballot proposition,” said the company.

“We feel that people have the obligation to choose what is right for themselves without influence from outside interests,” Sierra Nevada said.

California has previously legalized medical marijuana.

Proposition 19 will be on the ballot in California on November 2, 2010.

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Sampler Pack: Festivals, Brian Eno & Beer in a Can

Greetings. It’s a lovely Tuesday morning in September. Here are a few links to tide you over until it quittin’ time.

• Every wonder what alcohol looked like under a microscope? Kind of like the cover of a Brian Eno record [Boing Boing].

• The great debate lately has been cans or bottles. The Beer Friends toured the Oskar Blues Brewery for a first-hand opinion [Beer Friends].

• If you missed the Great American Beer Fest in Denver last week, here’s a nice wrapup of all the ins and outs [Denver Metromix].

• Get ready for it, folks. The New York Craft Beer Week begins this Friday [NY Craft Beer Week].

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September 2010