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There Used to be a Brewery Here – Hydraulic Brewery

Beer has a beautiful and tragic history in the United States. Imagine where we would be if it weren’t for the crushing effects of prohibition. I am a whole-hearted supporter of the current craft beer revolution and do my part by brewing a little of my own. As a longtime history geek, I like keep an eye on where the industry has been, too. Which brings me to this post. I plan on doing the occasional historical brewery, tavern, beer related post. Starting…now.

Hydraulic Brewery / N. Thomas Brewery / Dayton Breweries

Founded in 1865 as the Hydraulic Brewery at First and Beckel by John Wager. The brewery had a slow buildup and passed through many hands until finally making it’s way into the possession of Nicholas Thomas and George Weddle in 1880. Thomas was a German immigrant, like many others who started breweries in the Dayton/Cincinnati region. He previous owned a grocery and, from the sound of things, blindly leapt into the brewing business. Weddle sold his stake in the brewery to Thomas in 1893 and under his control the brewery grew to a 80,000 barrel capacity (from just 600 when Thomas first began with the company). The Hydraulic Brewery was eventually incorporated as the N. Thomas Brewery in 1900, with Thomas as the president. The brewery continued to grow and build new additions, including a 300 barrel at a time brewhouse in 1902.

N. Thomas Brewery circa 1904. Note the "Hydraulic Brewery" signage to the left of the Stock House

N. Thomas Brewery circa 1904. Note the “Hydraulic Brewery” signage to the left of the Stock House

At about this time, Dayton was fighting the advances of the dry movement and many area breweries saw fit to form an organization that would have more power to wield control over unsightly taverns causing much of the consternation of the movement. They would cut off the beer supply to the rowdy taverns, which would mean no more customers, and the tavern would close. The dry movement would then have to thank the breweries themselves for closing the bars. It obviously failed since prohibition happened, but at least they tried. The N. Thomas Brewery stayed independent at first, but eventually joined the group two years later in 1906. You could say that was the end of N. Thomas, but the name lived on and the beer continued to be brewed up until prohibition and in fact, the output was ramped all the way up to 150,000 barrels a year. With that, the Dayton Breweries closed a partner brewery,  The Adam Schantz Brewery, but renamed the N. Thomas Brewery to the Schantz-Thomas Brewery.

Prohibition eventually did the conglomeration in, as it did with so many other breweries nationwide. At the end though, only the former N. Thomas, now Schantz-Thomas Brewery was still producing suds for the public.

But wait, there’s more! Miami Valley Brewing Co.

Thankfully, prohibition didn’t last forever. With the repeal of the Noble Experiment in 1933, the site of the former Hydraulic/N.Thomas Brewery once again created the wonderful elixir. The Miami Valley Brewing Company built a new brewery at First and Beckel to produce post-prohibition lagers and ales. MVB started out with the Nick Thomas Line of beers. Pilsener, Bock, Holiday brew, were part of the initial offerings. Later, MVB started pushing other brands like the London Bobby line, and Miami Special. Robert Musson’s “Brewing in the Gem City” has a load of labels from that time frame. My favorite has to be the Miami Special that has palm trees and a sailboat on it…because that’s what people think of when they think Miami Valley (I get it, Miami Florida, I just think that’s a bit ridiculous). MVB continued to brew, eventually expanding the plant to 175,000 barrel capacity following World War II, however increasing competition from national brands made sales relatively flat. Brewing finally ended for good in 1950 at the First and Beckel street location, ending 85 years of brewing there.

Today

The Brewery was tore down in the years following MVB’s closure. A junk yard now sits at this once mighty and important site in the history of Dayton’s brewing legacy. Apparently, a couple of the smaller buildings remain to include the old bottling/canning line. While sad, it isn’t unlike many of the old industrial sites of past.

The sad fate of the Hydraulic Brewing Company

The sad fate of the Hydraulic Brewing Company

For a much more thorough history of the brewery with great images of the men who created the breweries, the complexes themselves, and the vessels that their beers were served in, please check out:

“Brewing in the Gem City” by Robert A. Musson, M.D. (offers a very solid history with an excellent collection of photographs)

“Breweries of Dayton” by Curt Dalton (Focuses more on the academic histories, with images to augment, as well)

Macro Showdown: German Wheat + Wildcard

It’s been a while so, let’s have a showdown! Weiss, weizen, wheat, whatever. It’s not my favorite style and I generally go for anything else at a bar when confronted with it as a choice. And no, an orange slice doesn’t make it any better; this isn’t Corona (I realize you put a lime in Corona but please make the connection, folks).  However, wheat beers are pretty common and rather popular if you look around a bit.

Which Wheat will Win?

Which Wheat will Win?

The small selection of choices out here usually contains a couple wheat options. A couple weeks ago those couple of options grew rapidly into four, FOUR, different options. What was a man, even a wheat beer disliker such as myself, to do? Well, a showdown, of course.

All the previous showdowns have been a one man operation. However, luckily for me, I have a great wife who was eager to play along this time. That meant I could finally do one of these blind. I drank the beers, my wife did all the bar tending.  Let’s get to it.

Benediktiner Weissbier – 5.4%

I’d never heard of this one before my local bottle shop started carrying Benediktiner earlier this year. I grabbed a sixer a few months back and liked it enough to pick up more when this showdown came about. This has the darkest body of the bunch. An aroma of light spice and wheat with mild sweetness. The flavor carries the theme through and is the most flavorful of the group but there was something about it I just couldn’t get thru, which kept me from really enjoying it. How did it fare stacked up against some competition? Well, if you are a fan of the showdowns you know the first one up is the first one out, so not well. I would say this one didn’t really compete for a medal (the Olympics are coming up, enjoy the reference).

Wh-eak.

Wheak.

Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen – 5%

The quickest way to get on my good side is to not skimp on the serving size. From the moment I first laid my eyes on Schöfferhofer, a solid 10 months ago, I knew I would like it. The odd thing was that once I decided to mix it up with some other wheats I assumed this would be my least favorite. The -hof surprised me. A deep golden and a tall white head on this one. Decent aroma of clove and yeast. Solid spice lead-in. I half expected a bubblegum or banana bomb but that teaches me to judge without knowing the facts first. The flavor is what ends Schöfferhofer’s gold medal run at bronze. Not nearly as much spice, yeast, or clove as the aroma suggests. Muted was the word that first came to mind when I took a sip.

Large and third in charge

Large and third in charge

Hoegaarden – 4.9%

You’re asking yourself what has become of my beer prowess, aren’t you? Why would I include a Belgian witbier in a showdown of German weizens? Well, my store had it, for starters. And more than that, Hoegaarden is what people think of when they think wheat beer. Sure, you could argue Blue Moon, but Blue Moon is only popular because Hoegaarden opened the door for it. So I had the opportunity to stake the most well known wheat against some lessor known wheats and see what could be so different. My initial thought, before the competition began, was that I would be able to pick out the Hoe, even blindfolded, but it wouldn’t be all that different of a beer, relatively speaking. I was wrong. I’ve never been of the impression that Hoegaarden has all that much flavor going on in it, but when you take away sight, and focus purely on smell and taste, the profile really zings ya. Citrus, lemon, light spice, and light floral notes in the flavor and aroma. Easily the most carbonated of the players. I actually really enjoyed this one. I did not expect that. I’ve had it so many times that I stopped paying attention to it when I was drinking it but that ends now. I’ll be pretty happy when the best thing some corner dive bar has on is Hoegaarden from now on.

This Hoe ain't so dirty

This Hoe ain’t so dirty

Hacker-Pschorr Weisse – 5.5%

In the span of four short months, I have gone from a Hacker newbie to a Pschorr promoter. I had a couple of their offerings in Munich during Oktoberfest, I picked up some Munich Gold a month or so ago here, and most recently grabbed a six pack of their Weisse. All have been really enjoyable German brews, surpassing all my expectations. The Hacker-Pschorr Weisse is full of spice and yeast, clove, and light bubblegum. The flavor is a touch of sweet malt, but mostly the nice spicy clove and soft wheat notes. Unlike the Schöfferhofer, the spicing isn’t muted in the flavor compared to the aroma. I’m sad I only grabbed one six pack as I could easily drink a few of these in a night. This is a really solid, enjoyable wheat beer.

Pschorr number 1!

Pschorr number 1!

At the end of the day I can say with absolute confidence that none of these are going in my top ten beers. It’s not their fault entirely, it’s just that exist within a style that I really don’t find much enjoyment in. Having said that, I do have a newfound understanding of the flavors in the beers. I really enjoy the spicier wheat beers with clove and yeast showing through. The Belgian witbier style is something I need to dive deeper into since that was a sure eye-opener. And if I ever run into a Hacker-Pschorr Weisse again, I’ll be sure to have at least one round of that hazy delight.

Podium Moment

Podium Moment

Forward

Burgers, Beers, Bahrains.

Burgers, Beers, Bahrains.

Bahrain Burgers, Taproom, and Brewery* finally served their first local beer to round out the trifecta of naming, and it was…pretty decent. I wasn’t expecting too much- it was my first brew in more than a year. I snagged a porter kit from Midwest Brewing (the kit is tasty, I’m not knocking it) and brewed up the all-grain batch a couple months back. Simple, straightforward, solid. I chose a kit because I was confident that it would be good, I didn’t have to worry about formulating, and I could focus on the things that have previously held me back: process. I’ve been struggling with my process for a while now- mostly because my last four batches have been brewed in four different “breweries.” When there is no continuity, for me at least, there is no process and there is no way I’ll be able to brew a proper batch. Our current location offers up more space than I’ve had in years, which means plenty of room to spread out and organize the equipment.

It was a glorious brew day.

I cleaned and sanitized with full confidence in the cleanliness. I boiled water, I steeped grains, I added hops, I pitched the yeast, all without feeling rushed, cramped, or pressured.

I’ve had some bad batches of late, which has put some severe strain on my brewing enjoyment. But this was a success. Not an award winner, not a brewpub opener, just a solid beer.

It’s a little thin, a little under carbonated, but there is nothing wrong with it. It isn’t infected, it doesn’t taste off, it is as a porter should be.

Success.

We also made delicious burgers tonight. They seriously rocked.  A mixture of pork and beef, with a plethora of spices and topped with caramelized onion jam awesomeness. Seriously. Awesomeness.

(*Not a real brewery, taproom, or burger joint. But, if you know the password you can get all three)

Good Beer and Takeout

I’ve had enough wallowing in self pity about the lack of good beer and the expense of it all out here. It’s time to take advantage of what I do have and move on with my life. So here is my first step.

My wife had to work late the other night so I was left all alone to my devices. What was I to do? I’d been in the mood for some local-ish cuisine of late so thought it was time to indulge.

Mmmezza and beer

Mmmezza and beer

I couldn’t be bothered to make the two-minute walk to my local schwarma stand so I phoned in an order from some random “greasy spoon” type joint a few kilometers away. Hummus, Kebbah, and a schwarma plate; I do love the food in this region. I was in the scholarly mood so I went looking for the best beer pairing for my meal of adequate middle eastern cuisine (the food was OK, passable, but meh. About what I expected, though). I decided that fried kebbah and hummus would probably pair well with a pilsner while the schwarma would need something a little more substantial to wash away the spice and grease of the meat. Sierra Nevada Summerfest, though a little out of season (however, is summer ever out of season in the middle east?), was the obvious choice to start and luckily, I had just picked up some Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA the other day. Boom, dinner decided.

The hummus was ok. The kebbah (my first experience with it) was rather nice. Lamb meat filled, deep fried bulgur, spice. Tasty. The Summerfest did its job perfectly; tearing through the oil and grease of the kebbah while light enough to compliment the hummus without overpowering it.

DFH_60_SchwarmaThe schwarma, much like the hummus, left a fair amount to be desired. It wasn’t bad and it had plenty of spice, it was just boring. However, the 60 Minute IPA really saved the day. Each bite was cleaned up with a gulp of the grassy delight. If only the schwarma had been better, this would have been a meal to redo. Since it was not, I’ll just have to give it a go with better hummus and schwarma- but the beers will stay the same.

Hummus has long been a favorite of mine, and, as a man who loves tasty things, I of course love schwarma. The kebbah was new to me. It isn’t a dish that will turn my world on its head, but one I’m glad I tried and will go for again.

Beer in Bahrain

Month nine. Beer selection is lacking diversity; F*%#king expensive.

I could stop there. I won’t stop there, but I could. Bahrain is about what you would expect from an Islamic nation. Alcohol, while legal, is not for the locals. Alcohol is for the me and the you, who are visiting this island for a bit. I am luckier than most as I have access to the Navy base here, which does its best to stock more than just Carlsberg, Bud, or Heineken. Why, just tonight, I had a Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, a Warsteiner, and now I’m polishing off a Kona Island Lager. If you aren’t as lucky for me, may I suggest catching the next flight to a more beer friendly nation?

All hope is not lost, however. The British have been here longer than those pesky Americans, therefore there is more catering to British tastes than American. That means at more than one bar I have found Wells Bombarider ale. One pint was good, one was god-awful (for those counting, that means I’ve found it at two bars).

Which brings me to the other problem with finding good beer in a country that does not have a friendly relationship with booze: proper care and attention. Since many of the owners and bartenders in Bahrain don’t drink their offerings, how can they be expected to make sure their product is properly taken care of and in servable condition? They can’t. I don’t hate them for it, that is their right. But, hire someone who does drink and who knows how to take care of draft lines, how to keep kegs fresh, how to not make me want to throw a pint of ale against the wall. Please?

There really isn’t a point to this, other than to give you an idea of this country and it’s beer habits. The basics are:

  • Beer can be found at a vast number of hotel bars/restaurants
  • Carlsberg is the most popular beer
  • Cider is more common than I would have ever expected (Strongbow, Somersby, Savanna)
  • Poor imitations of the Irish Pub theme are rather common- this one actually makes them similar to many other beer drinking nations
  • Cheap beer is expensive. 3BD is common. 1BD = $2.6 Yikes.
  • On certain days and in certain bars you will find yourself drinking among many Saudis. They like booze.

I’ve crossed Bahrain off the short list of locations to open my eventual brewery.

Beginnings that are New

Once again, I find myself in a new location, a place I’ve never been before, and a thirst that has yet to be slaked. My lovely bride and I have found our way to Bahrain- land of sun, sand, and quite a large amount of genuinely friendly folk. We haven’t been in country all that long but are enjoying the bit we’ve explored so far.

But you don’t care about all that. You just want beer. Well, I do too. Luckily for the both of us, Bahrain allows that malty delight to be served. Unlucky for the both of us, it is usually Carlsberg, Heineken, or Budweiser. Although I did have an Amstel Light with dinner the other night.

So, why would I blow the dust off this blog in a country with no good beer? For the search.

My cellar. Your envy is showing.

My cellar. Your envy is showing.

As I may have mentioned in a previous post (a long time ago), the search for good beer is almost as fun and exciting as the beer itself. In Japan, the hunt for a hoppy IPA led me to many places that other Sailors never could have imagined. In Philadelphia, the hunt brought my wife and I to the neighborhood we would call home and introduced us to new friends we had yet to meet (same could be said for Japan). The hunt for beer isn’t just a hunt for a drink- no, it’s an adventure with an unknown treasure at the end. If I find good beer or not, I’ll have most likely found something I never would have seen if I didn’t venture out.

Having said all that, as I sit here drinking a Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, I can’t shake the feeling that i’ve already found the good beer mecca of Bahrain. The Navy base here does a bang up job (relatively speaking, of course) of stocking good beer at its exchange. SN Ruthless and Celebration have already coursed through my veins. I have a case of Dogfish Head 60 Minute waiting its turn and am contemplating picking up a case of the 90 Minute, too. Not a bad selection. Not great, but not bad. I found a cider I’d never had before (Somersby- it was…Ok.) at a local restaurant, so the possibility exists that I will find something new and fun.

Let the hunt begin.

Gridiron Showdown – Week 1

It’s week one and Wisconsin is in town looking for a big win to start their season.  But, you don’t just come into Philadelphia and walk through a matchup.  This is gonna be a tough fought battle, won by the team who can pound it out on the ground the best.  No fancy pants wide-outs running fly patterns, or triple option flea-flickers in this one.  Just classic, hard-nosed power.

A white field is the new Boise blue

Clarification: To decide who gets to go first I’ll flip a coin.  Philadelphia always picks heads.  The winner always defers to the second half (the better half, in my opinion). Game on!

Lakefront Oktoberfest vs. Sly Fox Oktoberfest – Battle of the Märzens

Philadelphia won the toss so Lakefront is up first.

Lakefront (LF) – Comes out strong with a crystal clear, beautiful amber/copper color with a mid sized white head.

Sly Fox (SF) – SF tries to counter LFs early strike with its own color profile of copper and a white head, but it come up just short.  WHile it originally looks mighty pretty, upon further inspection it’s rather pale.  WIll that missed extra point come in to play later in the match?

7-6. Lakefront leads after one.

Needs to spend more time in the gym and less in the mirror

LF – Has a pleasent aroma of toasty malts, medium sweet fruits, some caramel malt, and a touch of herbal hops.  Solid.

SF – A much lighter aroma than LF.  Light biscuit malts, honey, light caramel malts, too. Wasn’t expecting that honey aroma.  Nice touch.

13-10. Sly Fox pushes one in for seven on the legs of honey and takes the lead.

LF – Has a crisp, medium thick body that is full of carbonation.

SF – Medium bodied.  Super tiny bubbles really give it a bite.

16-13. Sly keeps it’s lead but this is anyones game.  A slugfest for sure.

LF – Flavor has plenty of biscuit malts, caramel sweetness, some medium fruity sweetness, but not much in the way of earth or herbal hops that had a minor role in the aroma.  I gotta say that I’m a little underwhelmed with with the flavor.  Sure, it’s solid and there is nothing wrong, but it’s just a little dull.

SF – Again, SF is more muted.  In this case that’s not a bad thing, though.  While LF was full of flavor, it wasn’t all that great.  SF isn’t great, either, but a bit better.  Nice grains, sweet malts, a bit of toffee, and that honey comes back just slightly.  Still, not enough to get in for seven.

19-16. Seems after some early fireworks, both beers have slowed down and just can’t get over that goal line.

A fast start but tires quickly

LF – Overall I’d say this is a solid beer but not really memorable.  It has some doughy malts, fruity sweetness, caramel malts, and in the aroma, a bit of herbal hops.  It quenches the thirst, which is always a plus, but it’s just boring and I’ve nearly forgotten it already.  Would I buy this again?  Not if there is another Oktoberfest available to me.  So, what started out promising with it’s gorgeous color really let me down with it’s substance.

SF – This is a nice beer, but I can’t say it’s in the upper ranks of Oktoberfests.  It has distinct pale lager notes throughout because it’s flavor profile is really very muted.  I liked the honey notes, but is that enough to really make this a beer to seek out?  Maybe it’s just something about Sly Fox and my tastebuds that don’t get along too well.  While I think their pilsener is an amazing beer I believe their pale ale is a beer I can really do without.  The Oktoberfest is more drinkable than their pale, but it has some similar characteristics.  Is it the yeast?  I don’t know.

Final: 22-19. Sly Fox Oktoberfest wins week one of the Gridiron Showdown and making Philadelphia proud.  It’s a solid beer and well brewed.  It wasn’t without it’s first game jitters, though, and could improve on things down the line.

Philadelphia: 1-0.  Up next: Philadelphia travels to Detroit – Philadelphia Newbold IPA @ Bells Two Hearted IPA

(I learned a lot during the week one showdown.  I need to devote more time to these, take more photos, think about what I’m saying a bit more, and hopefully come up with solid and repeatable scoring guidelines.  But, for week one I think it went pretty well.  The rest of the season looks bright!)

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