American Beer - 1908

A series of "Letters to the Editor" sent to the New York Sun newspaper.


Pure Beer Declared to Offer Good Opportunities for Capital

TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN- Sir: As is well known, there is more or less complaint among people of means who have ample comparatively idle capital regarding the lack of opportunity for a safe and sure investment, without any great risk, which will be certain to bring enormous returns. I have in mind, and if I had the time and youth I would surely go into it, about as a money making idea as I believe exists in this country to-day. I have been informed on reliable authority that there are thousands of barrels of imported lager beer sold throughout this country daily because our American brewers, with hardly any exception, will not make the pure article. If there is any other cause I have been unable to learn it.

With but three exceptions (I know of but one positively) I am told, and I believe it to the a fact, that the American brewers all use in the brewing of their beer the ground up hulls of corn, to which some other deleterious and cheapening substances have been added. The corn used has had all the starch and glucose taken out of it, which is used in making corn sirup, cornstarch and glucose, and the remainder, with some other stuff which is carefully kept secret, is ground up, put into bags and sold to brewers and used them to cheapen the cost of their product, age it quickly and “scientifically” and hurry it along to its market.

The best defense of the use of this worthless remainder of the corn in the making of beer I have ever heard is the fact that it adds to the brilliant amber color of the product and greatly cheapens its cost. Throughout the entire country there is general complaint among persons who drink American beer of stomach and kidney troubles, for the good reason that the product is extremely unhealthful and not easily digested.

I said before, I know of but one brewery in the entire country that restricts itself entirely to malt and hops in the making of its product. To show what an intense desire there is all over the land for a good beer it need only be said that this brewery is shipping beer to all parts of the United States and I have never seen its product advertised in any way. The sale of the foreign beers in increasing month after month, and they are now being handled not only in the larger cities but also in the nearly every village and hamlet having competition in the hotel business and where there is a population of anything over a few thousand.

Does not all this indicate that there is a firm and growing desire on the part of the American people for a pure product and that they are rapidly becoming aware of the deception practised on them? It is not a question of price, because the people generally are willing to pay for a good, pure article, as is shown by the enormous quantities of foreign beer consumed daily at more than double the price of the home product.

The American brewery referred to above, it may also be stated, charges about 50 per cent. more than other brewers for its product and has sale [or all] it is able to produce, besides not being under the necessity of owning or financing half or any of, the places where its beverage is sold.

These being the conditions, what a great opportunity exists to build or buy a brewery and make the genuine pure German product, without the use of any deleterious substances or any quick aging process, and by advertising and selling it to the public at a reasonable profit. I know of no field that offers such opportunities, as the people generally are learning the fact that really all beers made in America are impure, not aged and hardly fit to drink excepting in homeopathic doses.

I firmly believe also that if instead of the present method of fighting the local option wave that is sweeping the country the brewers and distillers would agree to give the people absolutely pure products the wave would subside to a large extent with its own weakness. I do not believe that good beer can be made and sold at from $5 to $8 a barrel. Why not make it good and pure and charge $9, $10 or $12? The people would readily pay it once they were informed, educated and convinced of the difference between the pure and the impure, which could easily be done by proper methods of publicity.

It is a well known fact that whiskeys are sold a wholesale to the cheaper licensed places at as low as $1.25 a gallon. What kind of whiskey must it be when the Government tax is $1.10 a gallon? Ought such stuff be allowed to be sold? Would the distillers and wholesalers not be doing the greatest thing they could against the local option sentiment by agreeing among themselves that no impure whiskey was to be made or sold and not put on the market at less than $2 or $2.50 a gallon?

Referring again to the beer situation, I would like to see a few more breweries devoted to the making of a good, pure, wholesome product, and I believe it would soon compel many of the other brewers all over the country to revise their methods and instead of making their beer under the “scientific brewery college” system make it in the good old fashioned way in which it was made and properly aged by our forefathers and only out of barley, malt and hops.

Just as good beer can be made in the Untied States, I believe, as anywhere on the globe, but the brewers bowing to a low price condition instead of taking advantage of a great opportunity, keep on making the objectionable, indigestible stuff that can be sold in big measures a little prices and compel the dear public to send their beer money abroad in order the protect themselves from stomach, liver and kidney troubles.

H. W. K.

Sunbury, Pa. April 3


TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN- Sir: “H. W. K.” is right as to American beer. I speak from years of experience with brewers in saying that the constant aim is for cheaper materials, not for pure standards of product; to make money quickly in most cases with something like criminal disregard of the effect on the health of the consumer. I have been amazed at the conscienceless sophistication recommended by the so-called “Scientific Brewers College” maintained by the brewers.

Your correspondent does not go quite far enough. The imported beer he speaks of that beer drinkers must resort to “to protect themselves from stomach, liver and kidney troubles” is in large part not “imported” at all, though sold as such, and is often compounded like other American beers of cheap ingredients and artificially aged. As an instance I cite the case of a place owned by a brewer where “only imported beers” are sold at 10 cents the glass. I don’t know whether they are good or bad, but I do know that he makes them.

There is, as “H. W. K.” says, a growing demand for imported beer, but he is mistaken as to custom receipts. Less and less foreign beer is coming is proof that more and more native beer is sold over the counter as “imported.”

By the way, did you ever know an American brewer to drink beer? In all my experience with them, I cannot record a single instance.

I believe your correspondent that the wave of opposition to licensing now sweeping over the country is in large measure due to the sale impure and deleterious beer and spirits.


New York, April 7


Disastrous Effect of Unworthy Brews on the Human System

TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN- Sir: Though but a very moderate beer drinker I have noted the steady deterioration of the domestic product and have wondered that there has not long before this been a strong protest from consumers, and that with all the solicitude of the Government for the protection of the public against impure foods and unwholesome milk no attention has been paid to insuring at least wholesomeness in a beverage so universally consumed as beer.

That no good beer is manufactured in this country I am not prepared to assert: but certainly no man who knows what real beer is will deny that nothing but the most wretched and insipid imitation of it can usually be obtained for five cents a glass. If this insipid stuff were innocuous it would be a mere matter of taste whether it should be tolerated or not, but on the last two occasions on which I was foolish enough to try it, owing to the fact that there was no imported beer available, the stuff that was served proved so poisonous that one glass was sufficient to make me and an equally deluded companion ill within an hour.

I do not assert that all the domestic beer sold is as bad as this, yet these samples were obtained at two different road houses on two different occasions several months apart, and I presume the regular patrons of these establishments had become immune to the immediate effects of the ingredients just as the French Canadians have acquired the ability to drink wood alcohol and survive. I presume that a pure beer movement would get no sympathy from the forces of so-called temperance, as it is obviously in the interest of total abstinence that all beverages classed as alcoholic should be poisonous as possible. Such a movement, however, would certainly be in the interests of both temperance and health.

G. H. H.

Brooklyn, April 8


TO THE EDITORS OF THE SUN- Sir: If the quality of beer has deteriorated the public is alone to blame, for we can see the trend toward cheaper production and inferior quality in every brand of the manufacturing world. Beer has least of all suffered from the cry for a cheaper article.

Regarding the quality of beer and its ingredients, I can vouch for the fact that no deleterious substance can be found by a chemical examination to exist in beer, and this assertion comes not from hearsay but from practical knowledge. There is no simpler product that beer from its inception at the mashtub until leaves the chip cask, where the aged product has been revitalized by young beer, and there is no process which will better bear inspection.

It would be a good idea for the brewers to allow the general public access to their vaults and by practical demonstration silence forever the slanderous tongues of the ignorant and uniformed.

Other food products have been found to contain adulterations, and their manufacture has been place under governmental supervision. Beer, that exquisite product of the brewer’s art, has always challenged its detractors and silenced all suspicions as to its purity.

All devices that ingenuity can suggest or inventive genius contrive have bee pressed into service to safeguard the product against possibly contamination in the process of its manufacture. There is no less secretive place in the world than a brewer, and all doubters should first acquaint themselves with the facts before rushing into print.

C. M.

New York, April 8


Its Purity and Freedom From Adulterants Defended

TO THE EDITORS OF THE SUNS- Sir: “H. W. K.” asserts that he has been “informed on reliable authority that there are thousands of barrels of imported lager beer sold through-out this country daily because our American brewers, with hardly any exception, will not make the pure article.” When he talks of the “thousands of barrels sold throughout this country daily” an opportunity of making money by brewing “pure beer” seems to loom large before him. If he had stopped to consult the figures he would have been better informed, and possibly would not have rushed into print. The consumption of American lager beer for 1906 was 54,651,637 barrels; the total importation of foreign beers, included ale and porter, was 195,408 barrels, of which about 100,000 barrels was lager beer: one fifth of 1 per cent of the domestic consumption, a negligible quantity.

Groundless charges of adulteration of the vague sort advanced by “H. W. K.” and by like anonymous or irresponsible persons are no rarity. The are sometimes conceived in ignorance, but more often in malice, and the bulk of them might be traced to the declared and organized enemies of our industry.

First, then, as to the general, though extremely vague, charge affecting the purity of American beers. Some years ago, acting under the mandatory law, the New York State Board of Health caused nearly 500 samples of malt liquors brewed within the State to be analyzed by Dr. F. Englehardt, State Analyst. Not one of the very large number of samples officially analyzed was found to contain any deleterious substance whatever, the use of which could be regarded as an adulteration.

Not less valuable and conclusive is the testimony of Dr. H. W. Wiley, chief of the bureau of chemistry, United States Department of Agriculture, who has done as much toward the establishment of a general pure food law in this country, and who has paid a remarkable tribute to the purity and high standard of America beers. Senator McCumber, one of the fathers of the Pure Food law, is recorded on page 2808 of the Congressional Record as follows:

“I believe that we manufacture in this country the purest beers that are manufactured upon the face of the earth, and the fact that the brewers’ associations are all in favor of this pure food bill evidences the fact that they are satisfied that they manufacture a pure article.”

“H. W. K.” specific attack on corn, as used by the American brewer, evinces his deplorable ignorance of the whole subject more than any other feature of his article. Persons who have any real knowledge of brewing need not be informed that corn grits and rice are regarded as peculiarly desirable as a malt adjunct in this and many European countries. As a matter of fact, instead of the solitary brewer known to “H. W. K.”, there are a great many brewers who use only malt, and many also use other cereals with it. When corn is used only the best part, the inside of the grain, free from all hulls, is taken.

Finally, the Agricultural Department of the United States, which is generally charged with the administration of the pre food law, admits corn, rice and wheat as barley adjuncts in brewing. Perhaps I may be allowed to add that the United States Brewers’ Association representing practically the entire brewing trade of the country, was the first and for a long time the only body of manufacturers that from the earliest introduction of the pure food bill consistently advocated its passage.


New York, April 8


Its Purity Conceded, But What Shall Be Said of Its Flavor?

TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN- Sir: Admit the public to the breweries by all means. There they will see that everything is as it should be. Cleanliness prevails. The ingredients are pure and no fault can be found with them.

And yet it remains a fact that the product is N. G. Chemically pure, if you like, but it has no taste. This is a point that Mr. Monahan’s eloquence did not touch upon.

The writer spends some time each year on the European Continent and finds new joy in each glass of real beer, but in this country leaves the stuff severely alone.

Take a glass of the domestic product and let it stand a few minutes, and note how the flavor and life of the beverage evaporate. Why, you can almost see the spirit departing!

Our beer tastes raw, green and generally flat- that is all I know.

Never mind purity. If impurities were to improve it in the points I mention, I should say by all means let us have them.


Montclair, April 11


TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN- Sir: In answer of a brewer to my assertion that American beer is generally of poor quality, he quotes the Government chemist, Professor Wiley, as finding no “deleterious” matter in the beer examined. He omits part of the professor’s conclusions, to wit: “In composition it lacks the essential requirements of pure beer.”

As well may the grocer protest that eh parched bean dust you find in his “pepper” is not “deleterious.”

Your brewer thinks his critics should sign their names. For my part, as a dealer in barley and hops, so doing would, I fear, lose me what is left of a trade with the brewers already greatly diminished because of the increasing use of ground up hulls of corn and other stuff put up in bags- the composition a carefully guarded secret- which enables them to cheapen the cost of beer, age it artificially and hurry it to market.

I cite the recent complaints of European hop growers that we are “flooding their market with cheap hops.” Yet hop culture here is not very sensibly increasing. For cause of this “Scientific Brewery College” maintained by our brewers.


New York, April 11.


TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN- Sir: The national brewers’ organization has for years been in constant consultation with the Government Bureau of Agriculture in an eternal endeavor to have established a governmental standard of quality and strength of beer. A committee of this organization composed of some of the most prominent brewers of the country- gentlemen of culture, intelligence and reputation- is constantly engaged in stimulating practical interest in the production of superior grades of barley, cereals and hops- for the brewing of fermented liquors is no longer considered merely a science but an art.

In the former brewing days the utmost secrecy was observed: now inspection is invited: formulas are public property, and the Government knows all the ingredients, which records are sworn to each month. To “see the brewery” is a privilege frequently enjoyed by the public, and to show the brewery to visitors is a courtesy which is encouraged by brewers.

The development of modern refrigerating methods, electric machinery, accurate regulation of boiling and mashing temperatures, scientific determination of the quality of cereals, malt and hops used in brewing, filtration to remove impurities, pasteurization, and the rigid observance of scrupulous cleanliness are some of the recent advances in the industry, resulting in the production of a pure, wholesome and refreshing beverage.

Empirical practices have been supplanted by scientific, accurate and practical methods, and the modern brewer ins not behind his fellow manufacturers either in inventive progress or in taking lessons form the results of experience.

The American people should be proud of the marvelous development of the brewing industry and of the superior quality of its products. The American brewer studies intelligently the taste of his patrons and know that the reason for popularity of his goods and his rapidly increasing output is due to the fact that the American people desire a light bodied beer (although he may sometimes brew various heavier brands to meet the demand) , and that the imported brews are not and never will be received in this country with general favor. Give the brewer credit for enough business intelligence and enterprise to meet the requirements of his customers, and sense enough not to put an unripe, improper or deleterious article on the market.

C. R. O’K.

Hoboken, April 11


TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN- Sir: “H. W. K.” has not consulted the last report of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. It can hardly be possible that he has sampled the products of each of the 1,730 breweries of the United States (each brewery producing from two to twelve distinct kinds of malt beverages): perhaps in his zeal to do this his judgment may be clouded by his present condition.

Corn and rice are wholesome cereals often used in brewing as adjuncts to malt. It was a happy scientific discovery that the free diastate of malt can convert the starch of cereals in to sugar. This enables the progressive brewer to produce a light sparkling beverage with a minimum amount of alcohol, which certainly is a consummation devout to be wished in these days of temperance and is the most effective answer to the arguments of the prohibitionists.

The use of preservatives in malt beverages in this country has for some years been the exception rather than the rule- can the foreign brewers as truthfully say this? The testimony of eminent chemists who have analyzed foreign and domestic products will support my contention. Have “H. W. K.” and the other unpatriotic soreheads taken the trouble to consult such authorities? Let “H. W. K.” submit to an honest, intelligent expert his statement of alleging the use of the worthless hulls of corn by brewers and I will abide by the results. If I charged the brewer with feeding the useless husks of half grown oats to his horses, leaving the choice selection of this grain for the breakfast food manufacturer’s use, the average man would take me a candidate for an insane asylum.

I remember too well the “good old days” of the old fashioned, heavy, muggy all malt beer, and it oft-time acrid flavor, which even the generous use of preservatives failed to conceal (the resulting kidney and stomach troubles in those days were considered “visitations of Providence”). Brandy smashes and spirit drinkers were then in great vogue, and drunkenness was considered merely an idiosyncrasy; for all of which fond memories the brewing industry is suffering even unto the present time, thus visiting the sins of the forefathers upon succeeding generations. I am heartily glad that we are through with those days, which I am now convinced were really “bad old days”.


Newark, April 11


In correspondence on the quality of American beer which has been carried on in THE SUN recently the brewers have been held responsible for most of the faults of domestic brews. Bad beers there are, but many American malt liquors are made from the best materials by competent brewmasters and are sent out from their place of manufacture in splendid flavor and condition.

The best of beer will not gratify the educated palate, however, if it is served improperly, and it is a lamentable fact that comparatively few landlords, saloon men or bartenders take the trouble to draw this beverage as it should be drawn. Usually it is chilled through to a degree that renders it almost tasteless, flat and insipid. The low temperatures at which beer is drawn would kill the flavor of the heaviest brew, while the effect on the light beers is deadly. Iced almost to the freezing point, beer loses its life, its delicate aroma and its refreshing qualities. Beer should not be frozen.

“Beer from the wood” sometimes means that the beverage is served properly. But this is not always the case, for it is possible and not uncommon for the cask itself to be refrigerated. Beer is at its best when drawn from a keg that is set, with a lump of ice on top, in the shade of a tree. The thirsty man looks on the ice wetting the sides of the keg as it melts and is cooled; he draws his mug of foaming amber ale, sip it delightedly, gets the full, rich taste, the fine body of the brew, and is gratified. The same beer drawn through the lead pipe of the saloon machinery would not taste anything like so good.

Bottled beer should never be put next to the ice, as many persons treat it. It should be put in the cooling chamber of ice box, if the owner mush have it cold. If he wants it at its best let him keep it in a cool, dark place, away from the refrigerator, and drink it without chilling. Then he will get beer as it should be, and he will have no difficulty in obtaining a lively, well balanced brew, pure, wholesome and refreshing, of which the brewer need have no shame and in which the consumer can take pure pleasure. For summer drinking, though, seltzers and milk or vichy and milk is far more healthful and cooling than the best and lightest of alcoholic beverages.

(No author credited- published April 16)


Cause of Complaint Among European Hop Growers

TO THE EDITORS OF THE SUN- Sir: Just a line to correct an error made by the alleged barley and hop dealer who cites the recent complaints of European hop growers that we are flooding their market with cheap hops, and adds, “yet hop culture here is not very sensibly increasing.” The inference which he seems to suggest is that American brewers are using substitutes for hops.

The fact is that hop culture in the United States has increased during the last few years so rapidly that it has far overtaken the increase in the beer business, large as this has been. We are now producing more than 300,000 bales of hops a year, with a consumption of only 225,000 bales. The European complaints to which your correspondent refers are brought about by an enormous shipment which has been made recently of a part of the unwieldy surplus of the crop of 1906. There is no substitute for hops and cost of hops is such a trifling item in the manufacture of beer that it is not worth considering.

Hugh F. Fox*

New York, April 15

* [Ed note - This is in all liklihood the "Hugh F. Fox" who was the secretary of the United States Brewer's Association during the lead up to National Prohibition, and, as such, was often quoted in newspapers of the time.]


TO THE EDITORS OF THE SUN- Sir: I have learned if one wants to know anything about the merits of a manufactured article the trade journals devoted to it generally prove to be a source of great information not obtainable elsewhere. With this idea in mind I have read the Brewers Journal of date of April 1.

In the advertising pages of this paper I find as follows” An entire page devoted to the merits of “Patent Brewing Materials,” which by their virtue are supposed to keep beer without the use of ice; another page head “Better Beer With Less Malt” and advocating the use of sugar rather than malt or rice; on another page the advertisement of an individual who offers for sale “Pure Muenchener Extract Coloring” and “Porterine”; on still another page is the advertisement of a system of “Fermentation-Gas Carbonating,” by which it is claimed that “perfect draft beer can be produced in from fourteen to twenty-eight days of brewing.” I also find the advertisement of “beer color, salicylic acid, preserving cakes, pure malt color, aromatic dextrin malt”- all these thing being made by one firm; also “the best preservative for ale and lager beer”; also the advertisement of “maltoid, flake malt, girt and brewer’s meal”; also “Isinglass, guaranteed free from starch.”

If any man has not enough regard for his health to drink a decoction in the production of which all or most of the above makeshift are used it is his privilege to do so, but let him refrain from insisting that his beverage is pure, for these articles are used or they would not be advertised.


New York, April 15


Copy of initial letter, transcribed for readability to the right. (Click on clipping for larger view option).

Complete series can be found at this webpage of the :Library of Congress.