Ninkasi Brewing Company of Eugene, Oregon teamed up with the Civilian Space eXploration Team and Team Hybriddyne to launch some live yeast to space, bring it back to Earth, and then brew beer with it…

…A truly successful space beer in their minds would taste no different from beer on Earth. While it is fun to imagine that exposure to radiation in space could result in some mutations in the yeast that would lead to some truly extraterrestrial beer, the challenge that interests Ninkasi is protecting the yeast from the perils of a space mission.

“Our biggest concern with the yeast was radiation. On Earth we’re protected from the sun’s radiation, and up in space you don’t have that atmosphere to protect you,” Ninkasi’s lab technician Dana Garves said.

– “The Quest to Brew Beer With Space Yeast” by Betsy Mason for

To be honest, tasting beer made with yeast that has been to space isn’t a huge deal to me. It seems like more of gimmick. Unless there is a notable, taste-altering mutation. The part that really grabs me is the idea of using the beer-making process to produce a safe, potable beverage in harsh, alien environments, as has been done throughout human history. That is fascinating.

Barley has already been grown on the International Space Station. Sapporo made a beer from that barley in 2008. On his WordPress, Dr. Ian O’Neill, a Senior Producer at Discovery News, takes the point a little further…

This is another step in the direction of a reduced dependence on Earth for the supply of food. If a Japanese brewery can produce 100 litres of beer from ingredients grown in space, we’ve made an important leap into the production of other consumables from ingredients grown in space. Imagine what this means for the future of mankind when we begin setting up colonies on the Moon and, eventually (in my lifetime I hope!) on Mars. The vision of cultivating food on other planets becomes one step closer to reality.

Mission One was ultimately unsuccessful in that the location systems on the rocket failed and it couldn’t be found for 27 days. The yeast had a viability lifespan of only 8 hours. Thus, it couldn’t be used for brewing once the brewery got their box back. However, it still has lessons for the lab scientists to learn, regardless of it being viable for beer production.

Mission Two will take flight in October.

More information can be found on the project website at


Do you drink beer on Sunday? I usually do. More specifically, are you in Chicago when you enjoy those pints? I’m not, either.

Stay with me, though, it’s an interesting story…

Chicago 1857. Image from

Chicago 1857. Image from

1855 was a rough time in Chicago. Having only been incorporated eighteen years earlier, possessing a police force of only nine for a population of eighty thousand, and coming off a cholera epidemic in 1854, it’s safe to say that they were still “searching for their identity” as a urban center. Indeed, that was eighty thousand and counting as immigrants arrived daily looking for work and a home to call their own in a new country. As one can imagine, this led to a large discrepancy between the lower and upper class, the former outweighing the latter by as much as five to one.

If you’re an elite member of society, this is, in your opinion, outrageous. Crime and vice (as you believe it to be) are running rampant in your city and somebody needs to do something about it. Enter the Know-Nothings (also known as the now-ironic “Native Americans” or more officially as theAmerican Republican Party, not to be confused with today’s GOP). Without getting into an in-depth discussion of this group, they were a manifestation of the growing sentiment that immigrants (most especially lager swilling Germans in the Midwest and whiskey sodden Irish in the East) and Catholics “posed a threat to the economic and political security of native-born Protestant Americans.” Their name comes from their penchant for secrecy; when asked about the party’s doings, members would reply, “I know nothing.” And, in addition to the anti-immigrant/anti-Catholic planks, wouldn’t you know that the growing movement for national temperance also had a companion in the Know-Nothings?

The Know-Nothing Ideal. Image from Encyclopedia Britannica

The Know-Nothing Ideal. Image from Encyclopedia Britannica


Where this kind of opinion became problematic is in a town where the general population is not interested in voting. This means a candidate (or party) with an extreme point of view can get elected in to office with relative ease (realistically, there is more to this portion of the story, but this is a blog about beer, not politics). That’s exactly what happened in Chicago.

Dr. Levi Day Boone, up-and-coming member of the American Republican Party and Daniel Boone’s great-nephew, was elected as mayor of Chicago on March 6, 1855, on promises of cleaning up the city’s two main problems: too many immigrants (which in Chicago, were mostly German) and too much alcohol (brewed mostly by Germans – weird coincidence).

By the end of March, Boone began following through with his campaign promises, as he wasn’t the only “Native American” voted into office, it wasn’t difficult. He empowered the first official Chicago Police Department, appointing a chief, bolstering their numbers with Americans who could prove they were born in U.S., and for the first time, requiring that officers wear uniforms. He then went to the city council and passed and increase in liquor license fees from $50 per year to $300 per quarter. That’s an increase of2400%. To seal the deal, Boone ordered the police chief to use his new police force to begin enforcing an existing statute requiring that all taverns and beer gardens close on Sunday. For the twelve years this particular law had been on the books, it had been brought to bear in a very relaxed way. For the Germans, it was a social custom to spend time in parks, beer gardens and social halls with your family and drink beer on Sunday. Boone knew this. And Boone didn’t like it.

Dr. Levi D. Boone. Image from The Chicago Tribune

Dr. Levi D. Boone. Image from The Chicago Tribune

Looking at the numbers of bars in Chicago, of 675, only 50 were American-owned. The writing was on the wall for the Germans and Irish. It should be noted, however, that many of these tavern-owners didn’t have licenses in the first place and these dives were breeding grounds for gambling and prostitution. It should also be noted that American-owned bars continued serving their customers on Sundays through their back doors.

Suffice it to say the anger of the immigrants was reaching a boiling point. Eager to show off their newly held power, police officers arrested over 200 saloonkeepers in the weeks that followed enactment of the new laws. On April 20, 1855, a test case was to be tried for thirty three of the arrested violators, meaning each side agreed to choose one defendant and the rest would have to abide by the court’s ruling. So many supporters showed up in the courtroom, that the judge had to have them removed. This only made them angrier and they gathered outside the courthouse to continue their protest. Fifty officers came down on the group and, without organization, they fell back.

Clark Street Bridge, 19th Century. Image from

Clark Street Bridge, 19th Century. Image from

Knowing that brewery and saloon owners were gathering more support, Mayor Boone quickly swore in 150 more officers. At three o’clock, a mass of six hundred Germans and Irish marched down Clark Street towards the courthouse, armed with shotguns, knives, clubs and various household implements. Boone quickly realized he had under-estimated the protestors’ willingness to fight. When about half the crowd had crossed the Clark Street Bridge, the officials opened the drawbridge and split the opposition. Not surprisingly, this only served to ignite the powder keg and fighting broke out. Some accounts say the fighting lasted minutes, some say it lasted over an hour. In any event, the protestors fled North and the police fled South. Officially, one police officer suffered a gun shot would in the arm that required amputation and one German, Peter Martin, took a shotgun blast to the back from a deputized citizen and died three days later in the County Jail. It is said “that a number of mysterious funerals in the German community resulted from the riot.” [1]

The Illinois state militia was brought in to guard against further violence. The trial was abandoned and a peace fell over the city, albeit a shaky peace. It was decided that Boone’s statutes would be put to citywide vote in a special election slated for early June. Despite a campaign led by temperance advocates that flooded the city from around the country, a turnout that set a record in Illinois history, up to that point, soundly defeated the proposed laws.

The Know-Nothings lost their bet. Mayor Boone served only a single one-year term, his influence severely brought down for the balance of his time in office. And, within a few years, the American Republican Party had faded from Chicago and nationwide prominence. By the time Civil War rumbled in, they were dissolved. The teetotalers lost this battle but a movement for national temperance was growing. They wouldn’t be completely successful until 1919 when the states passed the Eighteenth Amendment and Congress passed the Volstead Act, which went into effect January 17, 1920. But this is a whole other story.

Chicago’s Lager Beer Riot proved to the immigrants that through collective will, they could have an effect on elections and express their culture more freely. Drinking was not a crime against morality. Sure, there were problems, but by-and-large, it was an illustration of their way of life and an attempt to find leisure and companionship in a city (and country) full of struggle. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing in America. Families no longer lived in small, sparse communities on the land they tilled. Now, they were in large, concentrated urban environments, working six or seven days a week in harsh, borderline inhumane, factories, mills and mines.

Drinking on Sundays was all they had left. And they were going to fight for their right to do it.

The Clark Street Bridge as it stands now. Image from



  1. “April 21, 1855-Chicago’s Lager Beer Riot” by Bob Skilnik (4/21/2005).
  2. “How Unpopular Was Levi Boone?” by Adam Selzer (11/15/2010).
  3. “No Beer, No Peace. When Drunkards Revolt: The Chicago Lager Riot of 1855” by Richard English in Modern Drunkard Magazine.
  4. “Know-Nothing Party” (rev. 1/2/2014).
  5. “The Chicago Beer Riots” by Gregg Smith.

Author’s note: While the main points of the story remained the same, almost every source had different takes on the specific details of the events described. I did my best to take a middle tack through the vagaries. 

Link to article

The third-largest craft brewer in America by volume, New Belgium is a “values-driven company,” says their government-affairs representative, Andrew Lemley. The brewery’s cofounder, Lemley notes, had been a social worker. The aim of the new PAC is to try and get the brewery more involved with some of the values that the company, its customers, and other craft breweries like it care about.

This Is Why I'm Drunk

450038_stock-photo-will-work-for-food-cardboard-signA penny saved is a penny earned.

Except when it comes to craft beer, for which it’s clear people are willing to spend a little extra, as evidenced by craft beer’s 20 percent growth in dollars sales last year or the fact dollar sales have nearly doubled in the last four years.

Passion for craft beer is at an all-time high, but when did this spending trend take off? We’ve got a pretty good idea, but with some help from Yelp Trends, we can have some fun looking into public perception of this change.

Much like our other look at the vernacular of “craft beer” and “microbrew,” a dissection of results from Yelp adds another layer to our understanding of the growth of craft beer.

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The summer is winding down and I’m beginning to take stock of some the beer trends I’ve seen the past few months. Third wave breweries are growing and moving onto bottling/canning, barrel-aging programs are ramping up, and we’re all starting to accept the idea of a craft-brewed lager through such styles as German & Bohemian pilsners, Helles & Vienna lager, and kölsch (a hybrid lager-ale but you get my point). This last development is particularly exciting to me as we can do away with the notion that what separates “craft brewing” (whatever that is) and “macro brewing” (again, a little vague when some of the first/second wave craft breweries – Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Stone, New Belgium, etc — are opening second breweries across the country) is not the style of beer, but rather the fullness in both spirit and flavor of the beer. Yeah, that sounds right. Anyways, I’ve made a point of finding some of these lager styles and I like what I’m tasting. Subtlety and cohesion should be admired as much as anything else.

The spark for this edition of BEER LEXICON came from two things: seeing the aforementioned lager styles (mostly German-inspired) and the realization that we are in the midst of that magical time of year, hop harvesting time. If you’re curious about what that looks like, check out’s video from the Elk Mountain Hop Farm…

Click the image to see the video on GBH’s site

So, I had been thinking about hops and lagers, and naturally, hops in lagers. Then I landed, yet again, on the idea of Noble hops. It seems like every time I see those words, despite looking them up several times, I blank on what they specifically mean. And I’m tired of blanking.

[Side note: It should be said that Noble hops do show up in ales (i.e. hefeweizens, certain Belgian styles, etc), but they are usually showcased to a greater degree in lager styles where the flavors are cleaner, less complex and more focused on the malt-hop relationship.]

Let’s start with the problem. We go to a brewery, brew pub, online to read a review, look through the BJCP guidelines, etc, and we see something along the lines of the following…”A crisp balance of malt sweetness and Noble hop aroma & flavor with a bitterness that lingers into the dry finish.” Let’s pretend we’re not beer geeks for a second and figure out what we get out of that: the beer is crisp, balanced, and the finish is dry. For the non-discriminating drinker, that may work, but we are discriminating drinkers. We feel left out of the party and we need more information. “Noble hops this, Noble hops that.” That’s not quite good enough. And to be honest, we’re not entirely convinced the people doing the describing are “with it,” either. Let’s investigate…

Some noble people. Image from

Some noble people. Image from

So says the The Oxford Companion to Beer, “Noble hops, a term that has an undeniable ring of antiquity and distinction…is merely a marketing tag and [one] of recent vintage at that.” The term “Noble hops” has no technical meaning – it’s a buzzword thought up in the U.S., sometime in the 1980s. The designation is meant to set apart from the hundreds of other hops, a few Continental European varieties that were low in bitterness and especially fragrant. Before the expression was coined, they were just understood as “fine hops.”

There are four types of hops that are generally accepted as “Noble”: Hallertauer Mittelfrüh (German), Spalter (German), Tettnanger (German), and Saaz (Czech). What ties these varieties together are their delicate, elegant, herbal, earthy, slightly spicy and floral aromas. Additionally, they embody the idea of terroir, in that it is thought these hops grown in other places, besides their home territory, will not exhibit the traits that make them so notable. This characteristic comes from the fact that they have grown for hundreds of years in a soil and climate to which they have adapted. They’re used to it, we’re used to them and there’s no going back. Interestingly, the genetic history of Saaz, Spalter and Tettnanger suggest these hops may have originated from the same plant but their different growing environments have imbued them with morphological traits and brewing characteristics that makes them, in essence, different organisms.

Hop diagram. Image from Tasting Beer, by Randy Mosher.

Hop diagram. Image from Tasting Beer, by Randy Mosher.

This begs the question: why use the term in the first place? What makes them so special? Stan Hieronymus’ book, For the Love of Hops, includes a couple takes on that very question…

  • “The other side is, ’not Noble’ doesn’t tell you anything. Noble goes to perception. Noble says something you doing is more classical. (Jay Refling, MillerCoors hop products group)
  • “Elegant, almost symphonically complex…The aromatics, clean bitterness. Floral, spice, citrus. Pine, spruce, eucalyptus. Aromas you don’t get in any other hop. In fact, in no flower.” (Jim Koch, founder Boston Beer Company, which brews the award winning, Noble Pils. He puts Hersbrucker hops in the Noble hop group – this has partly to do with Hersbrucker essentially replacing Hallertauer Mittelfüh in the late 1970s).

Brad Smith, of BeerSmith, adds a sub-group of “Nearly Noble” hops, which includes the aforementioned Hersbrucker (German), Fuggles (English),East Kent Golding (English), and Styrian Golding (Slovenian, confusingly a variant of Fuggles, not East Kent Golding). These are not truly regal variations but they do share the trait of being highly aromatic and low in bittering substances (aka alpha acids). In order to avoid any setbacks due to disease or pests, variants of both “Noble hops” and these “nearly Noble” hops have been produced for possible substitution. They include Liberty (U.S., based on Hallertauer Mittelfüh), Mt. Hood (U.S., also based on Hallertauer Mittelfrüh) and Willamette (U.S., based on Fuggles).

In conclusion, “Noble hops”, while a marketing term that technically means nothing, are understood to be certain types of traditional European hops that are low in bitterness and high in pleasant aromatic qualities. The blue-blooded varieties, which are thought to be kingly, are really just perpetuated as such, without any real reason.

I can’t help but be reminded of a certain scene in a certain movie:

DENNIS: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior.
KING ARTHUR: Well, I am king.
DENNIS: Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how’d you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma, which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society…
WOMAN: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
DENNIS: You’re foolin’ yourself! We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working class…
WOMAN: Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.
DENNIS: Well, that’s what it’s all about!…
KING ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!

Click the image to see "Constitutional Peasants" from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" on Youtube.

Click the image to see “Constitutional Peasants” from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” on Youtube.

If you have any suggestion for the BEER LEXICON series, let me know!



  1. The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garret Oliver. Entry on “Noble hops” by Adrian Tierny-Jones
  2. For the Love of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus
  3. BeerSmith blog by Brad Smith
  4. BJCP Style Guidelines

Really interesting reading…


Meux’s Horse Shoe brewery, Tottenham Court Road in 1830

I can stake a tenuous family link to the Great London Beer Flood disaster of 1814, which took place exactly 196 years ago today. My great-great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side, Maurice Donno, was living in Soho, a minute or three’s walk from the Horse Shoe Brewery off Tottenham Court Road, when a huge vat of maturing porter at the brewery collapsed violently and flooded the surrounding tenements, killing eight people. Most, if not all, of those who died were poor Irish immigrants to London, part of a mass of people living in the slums around St Giles’s Church, the infamous St Giles “rookeries” (later to be cleaned away by the building of New Oxford Street in 1847). Maurice Donno was very probably Irish, his surname most likely a variation of Donough or something similar (which would make his first name…

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The second in a two-part Summer Vacation series. The first was posted yesterday.

This summer, our family vacation destination was Mammoth Lakes, famous for Mammoth Mountain, a popular spot in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter season.  It’s not a highly populous town; as of 2010, there were just over 8,200 year-round residents. But, it’s not hard see where the seams might be busting during those four or five weeks a year when thousands upon thousands drive in to take advantage of the skiing conditions. In the warmer months, however, the atmosphere is slow and relaxed, as every good mountain town should be. 

Mammoth Mountain during the summer months, from the peak. Photo by FtB.

I titled this post, “The Local Brewery in Mammoth Lakes, CA…” because I think calling a place “the local” implies a sense of pride and commitment to your community. I believe Mammoth Brewing Company embodies that concept of “the local.” It would seem that there’s a level of acceptance on the part of the residents that this business is part of the social fabric of the town. For my part, I saw MBC out and about at town functions, the local grocery store had a highly visible and proud display of the brewery’s bottled options, they were a fixture on local restaurant tap lists, and they were organizing and sponsoring their yearly festival, Bluesapalooza. While we didn’t get there at the correct time to take part in the event, the posted schedule and resulting Instagrams paint a picture of a popular and well-attended festival with a wealth of good food and great music. Plus, there was a whopping list of over sixty participating breweries on the website. If you happen to have spent time in small towns, you’ll understand what it means to say thedrugstore or the hardware store, etc. It’s not special because of what it does, per sé, but rather because it’s a member of the family. In any case, that’s what I gather from Mammoth Brewing Company and the town of Mammoth Lakes. Maybe I’m wrong…but I hope I’m not (and I don’t think that I am).

Photo by FtB.

The brewery opened in 1995 and has been under its current ownership since 2007. Since then, they have quadrupled in size and are on track to brew more than 8,000 barrels per year. Recently, MBC has brought together brewing facility and tasting room in their location on Main Street/Lake Mary Road and Minaret Road. In coming together, though, they are stuffed to the gills with fermenters – some are outside, no doubt taking advantage of the cool climate. If MBC continues at their current growth pace, I would guess there would need to be some serious infrastructural changes. Outside, there’s a new beer garden, which, while it more or less amounts to an outdoor seating area in an unused section of the parking lot, is a welcome feature in a town with so much scenery in the background.

Of their “Original” lineup, I tasted the Real McCoy Amber Ale, Double Nut Brown and IPA 395. The Real McCoy is somewhat confusingly listed as an “American Amber/Red Ale” despite the fact that it won a bronze medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup for “German-Style Brown Ale/Düsseldorf-Style Altbier.” I suppose its because they’ve used the herbal and nectar-y sweet Palisade hop variety, which comes from the Yakima, Washington region (though Pallisade does share some characteristics of German Noble hops). The yeast might tell more of the story, as well, although it is unlisted. Whatever the case may be, this beer had a smooth, velvety malt palate, which made me think it had spent some time in a relatively cool conditioning tank (a trait of the Düsseldorf Alt style). The result was a very pleasant, mellow drinkability, without much in the way of fruity esters, that could have long accompanied our lazy nights of card games. Double Nut Brown, also confusingly named as it uses no nuts in the brewing process nor is it a brown ale usually noted for a certain amount of nuttiness, but rather it is a brown porter with notes of mildly sweet, dark chocolate and coffee with a roasty dryness. This beer is also a medal winner having taken home a gold in the 2012 World Beer Cup in the Brown Porter category. IPA 395, a double India Pale Ale brewed with Millenium and Centennial hops, chooses not to go for the knockout bitterness punch, though at 8.0% ABV it is deserving of the double IPA style moniker. The orange-y, citrus-y, earthy aroma is made more complex with additions of desert sage and juniper.  Compared to the aggressive West Coast double IPAs I’m used to, this was a nice change of pace. 

The tasting room. The brewing facilities are directly behind me. Photo by FtB.

Also available in the tap room were a number of one-offs and seasonals, which I took the opportunity to sample. El Capitan was a variation on the IPA 395 theme with the addition of brown sugar in the boil. It was distinctly stronger and more syrupy than its cousin, headed into barleywine territory. Wild Sierra, one MBC’s bottled seasonals, was a floral farmhouse saison with a prickly mouthfeel. They had a stout on nitro,Black Bear Stout. It had a soft and creamy mouthfeel while still relatively light. I noted that it would be an excellent choice for an ice cream-beer float. My personal favorites of their seasonals were Dos Osos, Blondibock and Bear Garden. The base of Dos Osos was a Mexican lager (I’ll assume by that, they mean a Vienna lager) with an addition of cold-pressed coffee in the lautering stage and lagered with cinnamon, cocoa and vanilla bean. The beer had a subtle roast that was nicely rounded with a medium body and carbonation level, I couldn’t help but think of it as a schwarzbier with a bit of spice. I’m told the use of cold-pressed coffee results in a roastiness without the normally associated acrid or burnt notes. If true, the effect worked here, I really liked this beer despite my usual aversion to coffee. There was apparently a variation on Dos Osos seen in last year’s Tres Osos, which featured the inclusion of tequila-soaked wood chips during the lagering stage. Color me curious. Bear Garden, this year’s official Bluesapalooza beer, was brewed in the Kölsch style with additions of rose hips, jasmine, and lavender (you could call it a “floral bomb,” if there were such a thing…there is now). These played nicely with the bready malt notes, light esters and dry, white wine-like finish. Blondibock, one of Mammoth’s annual releases, is a blonde bock (usually similar to a Maibock) aged for three months in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Admittedly when the server said “three months in the barrel”, I wasn’t that impressed. We beer folk are accustomed to barrel-aging periods of 12 months or more. But of course on tasting, my first reaction was “Wow! Three months was enough!” There were BIG notes of vanilla and bourbon with a with a smooth, toasty, slightly caramelly maltiness with the hops delegated only to a restraining role. From the alcoholic heat, I expected an ABV of at least 10% but was pleasantly surprised to see it rang in at 7.5%. I suppose the beer being a blond bock meant there wasn’t much of a deep malt profile to compete with the bourbon character of the barrel. Normally, a barrel-aged beer such as a stout for instance, has more dark malts to outdo in order for the barrel notes to be noticeable. The nice tasting room staff lady told me these barrels had come directly from aging bourbon without being used for anything else in between. This stood in contrast to the versions from previous years, which had third-or-more use barrels and subsequently, subtler bourbon character.

And of MBC’s house-made root beer, our six year old, who considers himself a connoisseur, had a whole growler to himself to form his opinion. He had this to contribute, “It’s rooty and beery.” My fiancé added, “It makes you never want canned root beer again.” Apparently, teetotalers need not feel left out.

As a final sidenote: Mammoth Brewing Company just posted an event on the Facebook page for a Hop Picking Party, next week on August 17. In exchange for 5 pounds of hops picked, you get a ticket to their Hops and Sage Fest (two of the ingredients in IPA395), three allocated bottles of Owen’s Valley Wet Harvest Ale and a free pint and barbecue in their tasting room.  I may have gone on record as not being a hophead but wet harvest pale ales and IPA’s (using fresh, non-dried hops, thus “wet”) are completely different.

Does anybody want to take another trip to Mammoth with me? Say…next week?

The Minarets from the peak of Mammoth Mountain. Photo by FtB.

The Minarets from the peak of Mammoth Mountain. Photo by FtB.

Mammoth Brewing Company can be found online at They’re also on Instagram, @mammothbrewing.

The first in a two-part Summer Vacation series

As of the beginning of this month, I’ve been in California, more specifically Los Angeles, for seven years. For one reason or another, I’ve never got around to exploring the Golden State all that much. So when the question came up of where to go for summer vacation, I brought up not going too far, for a change. It shouldn’t be difficult, it takes 11-12 hours to drive across the state, north to south. Surely, there’s something to see.

Of course there is. We chose Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierra Nevadas, home of Mammoth Mountain, a hot spot for skiing in the winter.

As with all summer vacations that I can remember as a kid, we required a road trip; this one, being around five to five to six hours, was easy. We drove north on US-5, connected with CA-14 through a section of the Mojave Desert and cruised up US-395 through Owens Valley. Mammoth Lakes sits on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, which stretches 400 miles north to south. It’s a fact that water is one of California’s environmental issues du jour. Thus, driving past the dried up lakebed of Owens Lake and the shadow-of-its-former-self Crowley Lake (or so it would seem), I found myself wondering how it got that way.

Image from the Owens Lake Master Plan website 

And so, allow me to begin my summer vacation set of posts with a subject that we don’t talk about much in relation to beer and brewing. Still though, it’s completely vital: water.

Water makes up approximately 95% of the ingredients in beer, you need it for sanitation, for the irrigation of grain & hops, and for the malting process. So yes, while beer needs malt, hops and yeast, without water, you literally have nothing.

As a resident of Los Angeles, Owens Valley should pique my interest… Have you ever seen the movie, Chinatown?

Video from

Chinatown, inspired by actual events, tells the story of LA oligarchs attempting to gain complete control of the city’s most important municipal resource: water. In reality, their target was the Owens Valley, approximately 200 miles north of the city, which is fed by the runoff of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  The conflicts that arose between the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) and the Owens Valley farmers are collectively known as the “California Water Wars.” These “Wars” are better suited as topics of books, not blog posts. But, I’ll offer a primer, at least.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Los Angeles was a very different place. At a population of a little more than 100,000, the city ranked only the 36th largest in the country (it is now the second). But then-mayor Frederick Eaton and the superintendent of the newly created LADWP, William Mulholland, had a vision of LA as a major player in the United States landscape. They knew, however, a major obstacle to their hopes was access to water. Mulholland famously quipped, “Whoever brings the water brings the people.” With the quantity, quality and proximity of water available in the Owens Valley, it was an ideal candidate for an aqueduct project. The LADWP began what is widely viewed as a series of shady dealings with the local ranchers and farmers. At home, a campaign of speeches, interviews and newspaper articles began to garner the support of Angelenos by implying a city on the brink of a water crisis. The issue eventually made it to President Teddy Roosevelt, who supported the venture saying that shifting the water to LA presented “the greatest good for the greatest number.” In 1913, the Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed and began diverting water from the Owens River. “There it is. Take it.” proclaimed Mulholland as the water started to flow. By 1924, fifty miles of the Owens River were dry as well as Owens Lake, which was at its largest, twelve miles long, eight miles wide and fifty feet deep. As a result of the obvious effects on their land, farmers and ranchers began to rebel by organizing a series of violent actions. By 1927, there had been 10 instances of dynamiting sections of the aqueduct. Resistance was eventually stymied by the closings of the local banks, the owners of which were later tried and convicted of thirty-six counts of embezzlement.

The city of Los Angeles marched on and by the 1930s, owned about 95% of the farm and ranch land in the valley. In an attempt to help the valley farmers and stimulate local employment, the LADWP sponsored various repair and maintenance programs in the area. In 1970, a second aqueduct was completed to meet the ever-growing water needs of the city. The list of litigation between the farmers’ coalitions and Los Angeles is long and complicated (and conflicting depending on your source). LA seems to have not followed through with most of the agreements until slapped on the wrist by the state. In 2006, during one instance of water being returned to the valley, a top LADWP official said, “Our message of friendship and gratitude is ‘there it is, take it back’.” Interesting.

Despite all of this, Owens Valley still provides 50% of LA’s water.

Image from the Owens Lake Master Plan website

It’s worth noting a few extra points:

  1. Now, Owens Lake is the single largest source of dust pollution in the United States.
  2. Last year, Los Angeles celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Aqueduct. I purposefully used the word, “celebrated.”
  3. The Los Angeles Aqueduct actually didn’t end in Los Angeles proper, but rather in the San Fernando Valley, which wasn’t part of the city at the time. Guess whose friends owned the land that had to be developed in order to make full use of the newly available water? Refer to the classically smarmy line by John Huston in Chinatown, “Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.”
  4. The St. Francis Dam, part of the Aqueduct about 40 miles north of LA (in what is now Santa Clarita) collapsed twelve hours after William Mulholland had personally inspected the site. The accident killed almost 600 people, 108 of whom were minors. Mulholland took full responsibility and resigned. His career was (obviously) over, though he went on to consult on the Hoover Dam project before his death.

Water’s importance to the growing community of breweries in Los Angeles is obvious. With almost 60% of California in “Exceptional Drought” (the worst possible rating), including the entire Los Angeles region, you had better believe all these water issues are coming to a head, and the beer industry is hardly immune. Brianna Sacks of the LA Times wrote about it just last week – here is the article.

Summer Vacation Part 2: The Local Brewery in Mammoth Lakes, CA will be posted tomorrow.


Further reading:

  1. At first mention, LA residents will most likely immediately get a bad taste in their mouths (no pun intended…maybe) from the LADWP. Hoping not to get too deep into their current reputation, I’ll just add that, in 2011, theAmerican Customer Satisfaction Index rated LADWP the 13th worst company in America.
  2. At the end of July, a water main burst on Sunset Boulevard spilling 20 million gallons of drinkable water over the nearby grounds of UCLA. LADWP and mayor Eric Garcetti blame a “poorly engineered joint” in the piping. Here’s an article from the LA Times the day after the flood.Apparently, LADWP might revive a program to test for overstressed pipe, as a result of this incident. Here’s that article in the LA Times. And, say what you will about Buzzfeed but here’s an article to put the amount of water spilled into better context.
  3. Here’s a link to a great short video from the series, Tom Explores LA, where he goes out to Owens Lake
  4. Water and Power: The Conflict Over Los Angeles Water Supply in the Owens Valley by William Kahrl can be found on
  5. Los Angeles Aqueduct Centennial 2013 official website




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AZ Wilderness Brewing x Bottle Logic Brewing (2 of 315)AZ Wilderness Brewing x Bottle Logic Brewing (34 of 315)AZ Wilderness Brewing x Bottle Logic Brewing (37 of 315)

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