Friday, March 09, 2007

Did your grandfather make beer? Mine did.

So I'm here reflecting on the past few days over a Fat Gary Nut Brown Ale from East End Brewing. I'm thinking of some family health issues, time with my dad and my uncle and aunt and work stuff. What does it all mean? Hard to say I guess. On one hand there's the bad stuff. You know mortality, that thing we seldom think about. Then there's today and the way life can serve up something unexpected and good. Oh right, beer...what does this have to do with beer? I recently spent time with my family. I've spoken with my Dad about beer often. Heck we brewed our first batch together. I've written about that experience on this blog before back in 2005. It wasn't really his thing, he'd rather make wine, but, he told me about how his father brewed beer. He knows the kids helped bottle it and that there was a raisin in each bottle. Over the last few days I found out that my uncle who is a bit older remembered a bit more. While I spent a few days with him he shared his memories with me. I asked him, "What was this beer like?" Well it was dark or perhaps amber. It was made from malt that came from a can. Hops were dryed in the attic. My uncle remembered a conversation he had with my grandfather in their attic.
"What's that Dad?" "That's hops for making beer."
Now we're talking. So did he grow them? Did somebody else grow them? Did he buy them? What did it taste like? My uncle said he remembered it as being somewhat sweet and dark. Well there you go. Now I'm hooked. What was the recipe? Who might have it? Was it in his head or did he write it down? So here is what I know.
  • dark or amber color
  • raisin in each bottle
  • cake yeast
  • hops drying in the attic
  • brewed/fermented in a large crock
  • started it in the kitchen
  • finished in the cellar
  • brewed for the 4th of July celebration
  • kids helped bottle it
  • kids washed the bottles
All of a sudden I have a new mission. What was his recipe? Could I approximate it? Wouldn't it be fun to brew it again and take it to the 4th of July celebration? Anybody out there have an idea of what a typical recipe for beer would be like 60 years ago in rural Western, PA?


Anonymous said...

What was the raisin for? I'm assuming it provided sugar for in-bottle fermentation. I wonder how much flavor is imparted.

Adam said...


Well, I'm not really sure. I found some evidence that it might be for the natural yeast on grapes. Or perhaps the extra sugar or perhaps both. I wasn't thinking about the flavor. I can't see it imparting that much flavor.

This is the fun part. :-)

Eli said...

MAybe it was Swankey?

According to the Mad Fermentationist its a regional western PA specialty.

"Swankey was a regional specialty of western Pennsylvania, it was produced for more than a century until prohibition forced the last few producers of it out of business. Refreshing and relatively low in alcohol with a strong licorice flavor this was the soda-pop of its day."

Adam said...

Nice find.

No mention of Anise, but, I'm sure my Dad & Uncle would remember if I asked them again. Hard to mistake that taste.

Thanks Eli :-)