From the HBD Archive
Subject: re: Why Lager?
Date: 1992-04-08 00:49:07 GMT

ingate!leafusa!! writes:
> Since you've brought the subject up---would you care to guess how it got
> warm enough in San Francisco to make steam beer a necessity? I used to
> spend an occasional weekend at conventions in Oakland or San Jose, so I
> never believed Mark Twain's "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer
> in San Francisco." Then I arrived in SF proper in mid-July, driving down 101
> with the fog flooding through the gaps in the coastal hills and virtually
> covering the Golden Gate, and nearly froze downtown; and now a physicist
> friend who taught in Sacramento for two years says that's standard (due to
> rising air in the central valley sucking cold wet air off the ocean?).
> So how did it happen that ]room-temperature[ lagers were necessary? Were
> they really brewing across the bay? Or is a daytime high of 50 not cold
> enough even for the older styles of lagers? Or (global warming on the east
> coast to the contrary---the Charles almost never freezes hard enough to
> walk across any more) was it actually warmer in SF in the last century?

Well, anecdotal evidence aside, it is usually quite pleasant in SF
(ignoring the rain) from spring through fall, and even a 50s high is
warmer than most traditional lager primary temperatures. For example,
Pilsner Urquell never lets their beer rise above 48F, and during
most of the time it is in the neighborhood of 40F. Of course,
that's only the primary; during secondary, the temperature is 34F.
This is not a common occurance in Baghdad by the Bay. However, 50F
is warm enough to give most lager yeasts a real kick.

> For that matter, how/when did lagers spread compared to mechanical
> refrigeration? 1840 is well before compressors, and somewhere around the
> start of ice-block refrigerator cars for cattle carcases. The word means
> "cave", I'm told because that's where the beer was stored to stay cool;
> were there no caves or cool cellars available in SF? Or wasn't there enough
> ice inland from SF in the winter (considering that there's skiing within
> easy reach of LA) that summer brewing should have been possible?

I believe that the pioneering work of Dreher (Brauerei Schweicat
in Vienna) and Seydlmayer (Spaten in Munich) with respect to
refrigeration occured in the late 1880s. Fix has the date in
his "Vienna". The lager revolution required a number of events,
but it began with the understanding of how to culture pure yeast
strains en mass. Cheap glass also helped. But until mechanical
refrigeration, the beer generally couldn't be made in the summer.

The word "lager" is from the German word "lagern" which means
"to store". I'm not aware of any caves in the SF area that would
have been local enough to keep the cold temperatures throughout
a summer.

And, of course, you look at distances with a jaundiced, modern
eye, as do I. But remember, 140 years ago, 20 miles was a great
distance and required most of a day. Consider that it took a
week to transport the mirror up to Mt. Hamilton in the San Jose
area at the turn of the century, and it was only about 25 miles
away. The skiing in LA is in Wrightwood, a solid 75 miles from
downtown, along a modern, highly engineered road. To get to an
ice field in LA during the winter, using horse drawn wagons
would be well nigh impossible.

--Darryl Richman

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