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Pete reflects on his life with beer, and shares everything he knows about beer and brewing. Written for the average person who doesn't know everything about beer, but would love to ask.
|Product dimensions:||7.06(w) x 9.96(h) x 0.98(d)|
On Thursday, July 30, 1998, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Pete Slosberg, author of BEER FOR PETE'S SAKE.
Moderator: Welcome to the Auditorium, Pete Slosberg! We are very excited to have you with us tonight and are glad you could join us. Before we begin, do you have any opening comments for the online audience?
Pete Slosberg: Good evening (good afternoon, in California here), and thanks for attending. I am still pinching myself at the thought of starting a company in an area that I once had no interest in, i.e. drinking beer, let alone writing a book about my passion for beer, from the liquid itself to its history to starting a company and creating a whole new beer style (American brown ale). It's been an exciting 20 years.
Greg S. Mitchell from Boston, MA: Is it true that you were a teetotaler until you married? Do you think this influenced your taste for beer? (What is the origin of that word, anyway, "teetotaler" -- do you know?)
Pete Slosberg: Greg, I wasn't a complete teetotaller until I got married. I tried several alcoholic beverages but hated them until I met my wife, who was then my girlfriend. We first started drinking wine, and that led to other things like beer. While she loves single malt scotch, I still can't drink that firewater, but who knows, someday I may learn! "Teetotaller" is actually defined in the book. It's one of a hundred terms that I found definitions of. Back in the 1800s, there were many temperance movements, and one leading movement advocated temperance in two forms. The first was to give up whiskey and only drink beer and wine. The other was total temperance, that is, total nondrinking. Most people opted for the first option. The second option was temperance ("tee") totaller.
Brady H. from Williamsburg: I tried to make beer once, and it turned out kind of dark and honey tasting. How did you perfect your taste? How many tries did it take to get the formula down?
Pete Slosberg: Bradley, when I first started the company with my partner, Mark, I told him I wanted to make a beer that I liked. Since he has never had a drink of alcohol in his life, he left it up to me. I actually tried to copy my favorite beer in the world at that time, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale. I tried four times to copy it and failed four times, but the fourth failure tasted even better than Sam Smith's, so I thought, the heck with this. I'll go with my fourth test batch as our main beer, and that is what became Pete's Wicked Ale. I realized what I liked about my beer that was better than Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale was a quality like the English brown ales, which are known for their sweetness. I added more hop bitterness and aroma to balance the sweetness of the grain. This addition of more hops led to Wicked Ale being the original American brown ale, a whole new beer category.
Ed from Pennsylvania: Pete, do you pasteurize you brews?
Pete Slosberg: Ed, yes, we pasteurize our bottles, but not our kegs. Nonpasteurized beer is actually fresher but very difficult to maintain out in the market. The American beer distribution system has been set up to maintain kegs ice-cold from brewery to wholesaler to retailer, but that is not true of bottles. If you don't pasteurize the bottle, you run the risk that bacteria in the beer at the brewery will spoil the beer in the bottles if they're not kept ice-cold, which is extremely difficult to assure in the way the distribution network works. Heat destroys beer by causing oxygen in the air gap to chemically change the beer. Pasteurization, which is heat, actually causes the beer to be older than it would be if it was left alone. This is really only a factor in the first couple of months that the beer exists. If the beer is four to six months old, the effect of pasteurization is not that noticeable.
Chris from Wyoming: What do you think spawned the micro- and craft- brewing trends in the U.S.? Did you notice the trend and jump on at the right time, or do you think you helped create it?
Pete Slosberg: Chris, whew, what a question.... My reaction is that Americans like high-quality things. With beer, Americans have had literally no choices since Prohibition. Just about all American beer up until 1980 was all minor variations on a minor beer style -- American light lagers. Homebrewers like myself loved to experiment. We weren't constrained in what we could make. By the way, homebrewing was legalized by President Carter in 1979, the year I started. Anyway, we could make any and all styles of beer that existed around the world. My friends would try it and, like I'm sure the other million or so American homebrewers, did the same with their friends. Ultimately, crazy homebrewers like myself decided to try to bring great beer to the American public, and once people tried these wonderful beers with color, taste, and aroma, the desire for better beer took off!
Earl from La Jolla, CA: How do you find the beer business to be in general? Do you find it a little more laid back?
Pete Slosberg: Earl, are you kidding, the business is more competitive than ever. Thirteen hundred new breweries have opened in the last ten years, and the imports are banging away for more sales. From the consumer side of things, it's a great time because of the availability of great beer, but the proliferation of too many suppliers is making the business environment difficult. The great news is that Americans are still drinking more and more great beer. Each year it continues to grow. This is significant in that the overall beer market in the U.S. really hasn't grown in 25 years, but our segment of more flavorful beers continues to grow year after year.
Tracey from Chicago, IL: Tell us about the dog in your photo.
Pete Slosberg: Tracey, your question brings a tear to my eye. The dog is Millie, my English bull terrier. She passed on to doggie heaven several years ago. When we started the company, we wanted to make great beer but have a lot of fun with it. We loved the term "wicked," which we heard from a comedian, but we also wanted to get attention from the label artwork, so we put Millie on the label. Six months after we were shipping beer, Spuds MacKenzie appeared on the Letterman show. We were flabbergasted. How could they come up with the same idea at Budweiser as we had? We actually got a legal letter from Bud to get rid of the dog, since we were causing confusion in the marketplace. After our lawyers wrote them with the facts, it took about one and a half years to get a response, and the Bud response was, OK, you can keep the dog. Well, we were indeed first with the bull terrier, and we thought maybe we should go after Bud. Our lawyers told us that we could and we very well might win, but we'd lose our company in legal fees! Oh well, that's the way business works. You can be right but still lose. We finally dropped Millie from the label.
Rich from Newark, NJ: In your research into beer's history, did you ever come across any very, very old recipes? Did you ever try any out? In other words, was beer in the past different from beer as we know it today?
Pete Slosberg: Rich, I've seen some old recipes in going through hundreds of old books. One of the obvious things, though, is that our ancestors had no clue what they were doing! They had no clue about chemistry and didn't know what yeast was. (Their old name for yeast was "godisgood," because they thought God converted grain to alcohol.) Also, beers were universally dark and murky until 1700, when brewers used wood/straw fires to dry the grain. Amber or pale beer were not available until coke as a fuel for the fire was used in 1700. Golden beers, which we take for granted, were not known until 1842, when the brewers of Pilsner invented golden beer to be drunk out of newly invented clear, affordable glasses. Anyway, there was no way for brewers to make consistent-tasting, high-quality beers until recent history. Also, we take hops for granted in our beer, but hops weren't generally used until about 1500. Before then any and all herbs, spices, flowers, and fruits were used as additives to the grain in beer. BTW, there's a great beer from Scotland that uses heather and bog myrtle as the spices in that beer!
Mike from MMuntz@yahoo.com: Hello, Pete! I love your beer. So do you have any plans to venture into the winemaking business? What ever happened to that cabernet?
Pete Slosberg: Mike, I did continue to make wine at home for many years, but beer became my love. The original cabernet that I made, which had the makings of a great wine, was mistakenly put by me in a fresh oak cask that my wife gave me as a birthday present. The bad news was that I didn't prep the cask. I washed it out with water several times, but not enough. The oak flavor overwhelmed everything. I'm glad I stuck with beer.
Lew Bryson from Philadelphia, PA: When you do your beer education presentations (which are great, I heard one a few years ago), what's the most common question, or the most common misconception about beer?
Pete Slosberg: Lew, it's amazing the amount of misinformation about beer that's out there. Things like ales have to be dark and bitter, and lagers have to be golden and mild -- wrong! Bock beer is made from the scrapings when brewery people clean their kettles every spring -- wrong! Beer should be served ice-cold -- wrong! Rather than taking a lot of time, I have a great section in the book with a whole raft of misconceptions and old wives' tales about beer!
Naomi from Evanston, IL: I've just started doing some homebrewing, and judging from my own experience, I bet you have some rather horrifying first experiences in your experiments.... Any stories?
Pete Slosberg: Naomi, I'm actually surprised by your comment. If you keep everything extremely clean, it's very hard to make a bad beer. Over the years, some of my beers were better than others, but I never made a bad one. We just did a companywide contest where every employee had to do a home version of Wicked Ale. Tasting each one indicated which people were meticulously clean and which people weren't. As a homebrew and professional brew beer judge, you do come across a wide variety of "quality" beers. The worst times are when they smell so bad, you don't want to put them in your mouth!
Eric Shun from Pennsylvania: Pete, your beer is really unbelievable. What is your favorite of yours, and of others?
Pete Slosberg: Eric, Wicked Ale is my fave (absolutely!) That said, my favorite style is an obscure style called rauchbier ("smoke beer" in English). Schlekerla, from Bamberg, Germany, is fantastic. Other favorite styles are the stronger beer styles like barley wine, Trappist ales, and doppelbocks. If you can find one of the 20-odd versions of Guinness stout that exist around the world, the most incredible is Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. It's unbelievable!
Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Pete Slosberg -- it's been a wicked good chat! Before you go, do you have any closing comments for your online audience?
Pete Slosberg: Wow, this was great! Too bad there's not enough time for every question. Please check our web site at: www.petes.com, we have a lot of info there as well as by phone at 800-877-pete. Hope you all have a wicked evening! Pete.