Happy New Year!
If you're suffering a bit this morning from too much New Year's Eve revelry and your head feels as though it was hit by a baseball bat and your stomach is churning like an Atlantic hurricane, you might want to consider skipping this column (I promise not to be offended), because it's about beer.
Want to win a beer in a bar bet?
The next time you're in your favorite tavern, pose this question: Who was John Leonard Barnitz and why should he should be a candidate for malt sainthood?
To the winner goes a free glass of beer.
Raise a chilled mug to the memory and expertise of John Leonard Barnitz, a German immigrant who established the city's first brewery in 1748 at Hanover and Baltimore streets, near the Jones Falls.
Maureen O'Prey, a history professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, writes in her recently published book, "Brewing in Baltimore," that the Barmitz brewery was also "Baltimore's first manufacturing industry."
"The entire operation was run by hand with minimal equipment that included mash turns, a brew kettle, cooling pans and fermenting turns," she writes.
John Leonard Barnitz died in 1749, not long after opening the brewery, and his son carried on until he died in 1780.
O'Prey writes that the site "continued to be used as a brewery periodically over the next 200 years." and that by the turn of the century, Baltimore was officially a "beer town."
The golden age of Baltimore breweries was certainly the 19th century, when beers carrying names such as Seeger's, Bauernschmidt & Marr, Wiessner's, Odenwald & Joh's, F. Schneider, August Beck, Brehm's, W. Auer's, Darley Park, Eigenbrot, Globe Brewery and Maryland Brewing Co. decorated the city's landscape.
The author explained the popularity of beer as a national beverage. At the beginning of the 19th century, Americans consumed 30 gallons of alcohol per year, with 24 gallons being beer.
Some of the breweries added hotels, restaurants, taverns and even duckpin lanes on their grounds for the convenience of the thirsty.
O'Prey writes that by 1895, Bauernschmidt was the largest brewery in the city, producing 60,000 barrels per year.
She includes marvelous period advertising illustrations and photos that show the breweries in all their glory, with puffing smokestacks and horse-drawn wagons about to depart their yards to dispense their goods to saloons, hotels, restaurants and stores.
O'Prey has included some astonishing facts about Baltimore beers. She explained that the distinctive taste of the beer produced by Darley Park was a result of "Irish moss that was cooked in the mash kettle to clarify the beer."
Apparently the public clamored for it, because by the time the brewery was sold in 1889, 30,000 barrels a year were being downed by Baltimoreans.
Another great advance, which was a boon to the industry and resulted in the establishment of Crown Cork and Seal Co., was the invention in 1891 of the Crown Cork Bottle Closure. A metal cap affixed to bottles replaced the porcelain caps that were attached to a harp and then locked down on the bottle top.
The new technology allowed brewers to seal in all the flavor while stepping up production. The machines were foot-operated, and a brewery worker could cap 24 bottles per minute, O'Prey wrote.
She writes that Baltimore breweries largely escaped damage during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 because they were on the outskirts of the city. One that did go up in flames was the former Brown's Brewery, which had become Claggett's Brewery by the time of the fire.
Dark days descended on the brewing and distilling industry not only in Maryland but across the nation when the Volstead Act became law in 1920.
Some of the local breweries that made their own malt held on by producing malt syrup for breakfast and other products.
The Great Drought was brought to a conclusion by a number of events, including the lawlessness that swept the nation during Prohibition, the loss of federal tax revenue on alcohol and the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, according to Daniel Okrent, whose excellent book on those not-so-dry years, "The Last Call," was published two years ago.
Moments after beer became legal again at 12:01 a.m. April 7, 1933, delivery trucks from the Globe Distillery began lumbering through the streets with the much-sought-after cargo destined for bars, restaurants and hotels.
One such destination was the Hotel Rennert, at Saratoga and Liberty streets.
At the invitation of the Rennert's manager, Paul S. Lake, H.L. Mencken, who had vigorously fought and had at every opportunity personally and flagrantly violated the Volstead Act, had been asked to have the first glass of "legal" beer in Baltimore.
I interviewed Lake, who had managed the hotel from 1920 to 1935, and he recalled the events of that evening.
He had invited Mencken to have a terrapin dinner at the hotel before the celebration when the clock struck midnight. Mencken said he had another obligation but would be there at the noble hour.
At 12:29 a.m., Sun editor and longtime friend Hamilton Owens and others watched as the Sage of Baltimore, pop-eyed with joy, said, "Here it goes."
After downing the malty beverage, he slammed the stein on the bar and said to the assembled, "Pretty good. Not bad at all."
O'Prey said it was a glass of Arrow Beer — "Arrow Beer, It Hits the Spot" — produced by the Globe Brewery, that Mencken downed with such relish.
O'Prey writes about beers a little closer to modern memory that flourished in Baltimore after repeal, such as National Premium, National Bohemian, Gunther's, Free State, American and Arrow Beer, and their sad demises.
She concludes with a chapter on craft beers produced by Hugh Sisson's Clipper City Brewing Co., Oliver's, the Brewer's Art and Bawlmer Craft Beers, which means that the tradition of brewing in Baltimore will continue.
There is more good news for beer lovers. National Premium will return to join its mate, National Boh, which came back last year.
"Tim Miller over in Easton promises it'll be back by Opening Day," said former Baltimore Sun food columnist Rob Kasper, who is writing a book, "Baltimore Beers: A History of Suds City," with Fells Point bartender Turkey Joe Trabert and Baltimore photographer-writer Jim Burger, who also had been on the staff of The Sun.
Kasper said the book, which is being published by History Press, will be available by Father's Day.
In a book laden with pictures, advertisements, beer ephemera and memorabilia, O'Prey assembles many arcane facts.
Did you know that Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the 30-by-42-foot flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, completed it on the floor of Brown's Brewery because it was too enormous to fit in her East Pratt Street home?
Go ahead. You can probably win a beer on that information, too!