Straub 1872 Lager: Old school!

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on

Straub's lager takes its inspiration from very old ones — the beers that were brewed in this country before Prohibition.

Straub 1872 Lager is just hitting area beer distributors, where you’ll find it in a sampler case celebrating the St. Marys, Elk County, brewery’s 140th anniversary. Some watering holes will have it on draft, too, through the holidays.

The lager has more taste, body, malt and hops than you might expect from Straub, but that’s how beer was made back when Peter Straub starting doing it in 1872.

Today’s head brewer (and vice president and general manager) Vince Assetta did his research to create this beer. He credits the seed of the idea for a pre-Prohibition-style beer to Vecenie Distributing Co.'s specialty brand manager, Tony Knipling.Straub1872label

Mr. Assetta says that Straub president (and Peter Straub’s great-great grandson) Bill Brock were talking about coming up with new brews to appeal to today’s craft beer drinkers, without abandoning Straub’s decades-old legacy of making lagers that by today’s standards would be considered “sessionable” — that is, low enough in alcohol that you can drink a couple in one session.

They played around on a half-barrel “research and development” brewing system and decided to go with this lager.

Mr. Assetta says he found recipes at the brewery dating just after Prohibition ended in 1933, but not any earlier ones. So he researched earlier lagers, learning that German immigrants such as Peter Straub were used to working with German two-row barley, but in America, had to work mostly with domestic six-row barley, which tended to make a rougher and cloudier brews.

That’s why “German-American brewers of the day began working out the details of adjunct brewing to provide the best beer possible from the available domestic malts,” Mr. Assetta writes in an email. “The Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago was founded the same year as Straub, in 1872. They began as a German-speaking technical institute to support the lager brewing industry. Their first real contribution to the brewing industry was working out the science of adjunct brewing.”

Mr. Assetta used the typical ratio of 80 percent malt and 20 percent corn flakes, but added some Munich malt to pump up the color and malt flavor.

To hop the beer as authentically as possible, he used pellets of Cluster hops, which would have been typical for bittering back in the day, but also, for flavor and aroma, added imported pellets of Noble Hallertau Mittelfruh hops. “This was the first time we used hop pellets in a commercial brew,” he notes. “For over 34 years we have using a concentrated hop extract, which is very efficient and effective. Prior to that whole hop cones were used.”

As a result, he says, Straub 1872 has about three times the IBUS, or international bitterness units, of Straub’s regular lager. “The lager beers back when Straub was founded were definitely hoppier than the popular lagers today,” he writes. “My research indicated consumer preferences changed during the 13 years of Prohibition and following repeal a less bitter beer was demanded.”

Of course, the palates of craft brew lovers came back to bitter in a very big way. Mine certainly have.

And I really enjoyed the sample I tried during the Steelers-Giants game.

The lager had good taste, but wasn’t as alcoholic as the India pale ale I had on hand.

I definitely wanted another one, and will be looking for this on draft. Mr. Knipling promises that several Pittsburgh-area bars will be carrying it.

I’ll also look forward to other interesting special brews from Straub. Mr. Assetta says this year’s Groundhog Brew will be a German-style alt, the brewery’s first-ever all-malt brew and the first ale in decades.LegacyBrewerylogo

Interesting, the new Straub 1872 Lager label carries a logo identifying Straub as an “American Legacy Brewery.” Mr. Assetta says Straub created that designation and hopes to share it with several other older American breweries that don’t fit the Brewers Association trade group’s definition of a “craft brewer” because more than 50 percent of their brewing includes adjuncts such as corn or rice.

We’ll write more about this branding program down the road.

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