Beer migration to a new brewery
The recent Hoegaarden / Celis Brewery posting got me thinking - is there a beer that has improved when it moved from one brewery to another? I'm sure there are, but none come to mind immediately.
Usually when a beer moves to a different brewery, people say it's not as good as before, but I think a lot of it has to do with people's idea that the past has always been better ("golden years"), and the romance associated with beer and its original brewery. What say you?
CAMRA in the UK has always tried to empahsize the importance of locale in brewing - which has never taken on much importance in US craft beer culture. For example, one could detect a certain sulfurous component in Burton ales (e.g. the original Bass) that supposedly originated in the region's water.
When I lived in Liverpool in the late '80s - early '90s we had a lot of Tetley pubs and their cask ale was sourced from Allied's Warrington (Cheshire) brewery. This beer was judged by geeks to be less characterful than that brewed at Tetley's other (and original) brewery in Leeds (Yorkshire). This was despite the fact that Allied swore the beers were made identically and that the water in Warrington was 'adjusted' to be similar to that in Leeds. Our local CAMRA branch even had a side by side comparison which verified this difference.
CAMRA was always on the warpath against the likes of Whitbread, who were notorious for buying and closing small regional breweries and consolidating the brands in their larger facilities. The resulting brews were often a shadow of their former selves.
I can think of 2. Both had the same problem- DMS (cooked corn aroma/flavor). The first is our local micro, Sweetwater. Their flagship pale ale, 420, had a decided DMS problem before they moved into their new brewery.
The other, surprisingly enough, is the classic example of the DMS flaw- Rolling Rock. My understanding is that the Latrobe brewery has been shut down and the beer is being brewed elsewhere. Tried one at a friend's house recently just to see if the DMS was still there, and it wasn't. That leaves it as boring, weak beer in a green bottle, instead of good practice for beer judging.
If you think about it, people like their favorite beer and when something changes they say it is worse. Other people might think it's better. If I tried a beer a couple years ago and didn't like it, I probably won't try it again. But maybe I should if they've moved locations.
A very good friend of mine is a brewmaster, and he told me that even though you can filter and 'adjust' water, it is never exactly the same at different locations. The same can be said of hops/barley/malt from season to season. There are always slight differences from batch to batch, but customers rarely comment on it.
Most brewers will adjust their recipe according to the seasonal ingredients - for example, if the hops are more bitter than usual, use less hops.
Even with the same water, ingredients, and recipe, a new brewery can end up with a different beer due to kettle size, cleaning procedures, bottling line, etc.
I asked the same question in the "Evils of InBev" thread, and no one, not even the pro- or neutral "consolidation" folks, could come up with one, either (well, most people probably just ignored the question <g> , but you get my drift).
That thread also includes my opinion on the "water" and "flora" (?) theory- most modern breweries filter and "adjust" their water, so it's one of the easiest things to duplicate from an old brewing site (now, whether a new brewery *bothers* to do it, is another thing). As for "flora",- outside of Belgium- I think most modern large breweries strive for pharmaceutical-like cleanliness in their breweries and open fermentation is rare (even a micro like Ommegang, which does do open fermentation, it's in a "clean room" IIRC).
But, back to the question. One of my pre-micro era favorites, Ballantine Ale bounced from brewery to brewery after Falstaff purchased the brand and then Falstaff parent company S&P bought Pabst and continued to close breweries and move the brand around. The "common wisdom" is that with each move, the ale suffered (not as much as it's sister brew, Ballantine India Pale Ale but still...) and lost "something". But, I recall, in the late 90's a version that made me sit up and say, "Wow, it's back." Sadly, for the life of me, I can't remember WHICH version it was- but I think it's was either Pabst- Milwaukee's OR a rumored Heileman-Lacrosse version (US Gov't regulations now let brewers get away with not listing actual brewing location, so I can't really remember which it was). Once the brand moved to Miller (like most Pabst brands) it went WAY downhill, however.
Another ale that briefly "got better" was Schoenling's Little Kings Cream Ale, which also suffered from getting bounced from owner to owner but, for a brief time, was brewed by a micro, Frederick (which was then owned by the same owner as Little Kings, Snyder) and IIRC the recipe was upgraded (6 row barley replaced with 2 row, possibly a reduction in the adjunct percentage...) but that didn't last long before the entire company collasped. I only had the Frederick version LKCA once (live outside the distribution area) and it was somewhat old, but it did taste a bit "richer" than the previous Cincinnati version out of Boston Brewing's plant there.
And, one more pre-micro ale- McSorley's had been a draught only product for many years when Rheingold resurrected the brand in the late 70's and bottled it, right before they went under. Schmidt's of Phila. bought most of the Rheingold labels (Rheingold, Knickerbocker, etc) but Ortlieb, their neighboring rival, for whatever reason, wound up with McSorley's and the ale seemed to get a touch better, maybe a more floral hop nose IIRC. McSorley's eventually wound up at Schmidt's when Ortlieb went under, but the beer remained the same (altho' there's still some debate on whether it remained a "bastard ale" by being brewed with lager yeast or went to top fermenting yeast at Schmidt's since they still had open Cyprus wooden ale fermentation tanks). At both Ortlieb and Schmidt's the ales were brewed by Bill Moeller, who went on to design some of the Brooklyn beers, as well as a few other early East Coast craft beers.