The Schlafly Beer Employee Blog

November 1, 2011

Top Fermentation - November 2011

tombiowebThe Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer President Tom Schlafly

The presidential election is one year away and once again The Beer Drinkers Party has failed to mobilize. It doesn’t even exist. Sadly, this has been the pattern in all five elections in the history of Schlafly Beer, going back to 1992. We always talk about starting a political party to represent the interests of beer drinkers, but never quite get around to it. In the meantime, while we’ve been solving the problems of the world over pints of beer at The Tap Room, other groups have been organizing to promote the interests of their members. Think about it. The economic stimulus program had a pricetag of almost a trillion dollars, not one penny of which has gone to beer drinkers. Unlike banks and automakers, breweries haven’t received billions of dollars in government bailouts. Unlike farmers, we don’t get billions of dollars in government aid. On the contrary, we actually have to pay more for barley because government incentives to grow corn for ethanol end up raising the cost of other grains.

In fairness to beer drinkers, it’s not just our inertia that has kept us from starting our own political party. There’s also the fact that the two entrenched, major parties have passed laws to make ballot access for other parties very difficult in most states. It should be noted that such is not the case throughout the rest of the democratic world. Consider Switzerland, for example, which has a history of democracy many centuries older than that in the United States or anywhere else in Europe (with the arguable exception of Iceland). Any Swiss citizen over the age of 18 can start a political party. He or she only needs between 100 and 400 signatures (depending on the canton) in order to be on the ballot for a seat in the Swiss parliament. As a result, Switzerland now recognizes both a Pirate Party and an Anti-Power Point Party, among others.

Unlike most other European immigrants, when my great great grandparents Johan and Helena Schlafly emigrated from Switzerland to the United States, they were moving from one democracy to another. They sailed from Le Havre, France on The Roger Stewart in the spring of 1854 and landed in New Orleans on May 25th of that year. Their son Adolf, who was less than a year old, had died at sea on May 2nd. Johan caught cholera not long after they arrived and died in New Helvetia (now Highland), Illinois on August 20, 1854, leaving his widow alone to raise their five surviving children, including my great grandfather, August, who was four years old. A sixth child, Emma, was born eight months later, in April of 1855.

0689The ship that brought the Schlaflys to America in 1854

Although Switzerland had a stronger democratic tradition than its European neighbors, there had been a bitter civil war in 1847, which perhaps influenced the Schlaflys’ decision to emigrate. Ironically, the civil war that broke out within seven years of their settling in the United States was much bloodier than the one they had left behind in the old country. Nevertheless, despite all the hardships, once they made the decision to pursue their dream in America, there was no turning back. In that sense, they were very much in the tradition of tens of millions of others, including the Pilgrims who had come to Plymouth, Massachusetts 234 years earlier.

These same Pilgrims are now remembered for having celebrated the first Thanksgiving. Nearly four centuries later, we still enjoy Thanksgiving dinners featuring foods that are indigenous to America: turkey, cranberries, corn (by itself or with lima beans in succotash), mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and lager beer. Say what?

Alert readers (ARs) will undoubtedly be surprised by my claiming that lager beer originated in America. Some may ask, Isn’t it true that beer was brewed in Europe thousands of years ago? Yes. Isn’t it true that the Pilgrims came ashore in part because they ran out of beer on the Mayflower and that one of the first things William Bradford did was to order the building of a brewery for Plymouth Colony? Indeed it is. And isn’t it true that lager is a German word and that Germans are generally credited with introducing lager beers to America? Yes and yes. Then, how can I possibly contend that lager beer originated in America? Good question.

In order to answer this question, it’s important to remember that beers can be divided into ales and lagers, which are differentiated by the respective types of yeast used to make them. For the first several thousand years of brewing, all beers were ales, brewed with yeast known in Latin as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Lagers, which were developed relatively recently, are made with a hybrid yeast, half cerevisiae and half something else. Scientists have now determined that the something else is a yeast they dubbed Saccharomyces eubayanus, which originated in galls that infect beech trees in Patagonia. ARs who wish to know more about this topic should consult The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which published a scholarly paper dealing with it; and should consult Webster’s Dictionary in case they don’t know what a gall is (as I didn’t).

The point is: there would be no lager beer without lager yeast or eubayanus; and eubayanus came from South America. Q.E.D. (A Latin abbreviation for quod erat demonstrandum, basically meaning, “so, there.”)

While I’m on the subject, it’s worth reiterating what an amazing micro-organism yeast is. Not only do yeasts convert carbohydrates into carbon dioxide and alcohol, they can also reproduce and grow in a wide variety of other media. As agents of growth yeasts are far more effective and a lot cheaper than a trillion dollar government stimulus package that excludes beer drinkers and brewers.