With Hanukkah Microbrews, A Taste of Jewish History | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

With Hanukkah Microbrews, A Taste of Jewish History

Play associated audio

During the holidays, many beer manufacturers roll out seasonal brews. But there's a relative newcomer for the festival of lights: Hanukkah beer.

Lompoc Brewing, in Portland, Ore., is one small, craft brewery that has added it to its winter lineup.

"We had a Jewish gentleman here ... and he wanted to make a Hanukkah brew," says David Fleming, the head brewer. "So we thought it was a great idea. We already had six Christmas beers going anyhow, so why couldn't we have a seventh one for Hanukkah?"

Lompoc ended up with a chocolate rye porter called 8 Malty Nights. It has become one of its more popular winter beers. And Lompoc is not alone – a few others, like Schmaltz Brewing Company, are also bringing Jewish beers to market.

But this isn't the first time Jews have gone into the beer business.

"The story ... begins really far back, at the Babylonian exile," says Marni Davis, the author of Jews and Booze and an assistant professor of history at Georgia State University. She says that even though beer is never mentioned in the Hebrew bible, it is kosher. And Jews have brewed it from Persia to Europe, and into America.

Davis has found lots of examples of central European Jews founding breweries. One of the biggest was New York's Rheingold Brewery, founded by Samuel Leibmann.

But Davis says that, for the most part, Jewish breweries cropped up in smaller, non-German cities – places like Denver, or Anaheim. Unfortunately, even the most successful of these breweries had to empty out their kegs in 1919, at least officially.

"The most important Jewish beer entrepreneurs during Prohibition were the bootleggers, the gangsters," says Davis. "They were operating with Irish and Italian immigrants, these sort of inter-ethnic crime syndicates really helped to maintain the presence of alcohol, and beer in particular, in American life."

After Prohibition, small Jewish breweries — like small breweries everywhere — were edged out by the big guys. It's only in the last few years, with the microbrewery revival, that we're starting to see them again.

So does this long history mean that we've had it all wrong? That Jews really are the people of the hops? Davis says beer isn't particularly Jewish. But it is a part of Jewish life.

"Beer is one of the ways that Jews can become part of the culture that they're in, and they can do it as Persians, they can do so as German-Americans in the beer gardens of Cincinnati, and they could do it today, as producers of cheeky beers that are coming out of craft breweries right as we speak," says David.

Fleming says 8 Malty Nights is doing well. Lompoc has already brewed 60 kegs for the holiday season. And, perhaps even more importantly, it goes well with Hanukkah latkes.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, Oct. 1

Music from West Africa and photography from South East Asia come to the D.C. area.

NPR

From Kale To Pale Ale, A Love Of Bitter May Be In Your Genes

Researchers have found a gene that affects how strongly you experience bitter flavors. And those who aren't as sensitive eat about 200 more servings of vegetables per year.
NPR

Obama Sidesteps Midterm Campaigning As Approval Ratings Slump

The president's job approval rating is somewhere in the low 40s. That means there are a lot of places where his presence would hurt more than it helps.
NPR

Facebook Apologizes For Name Policy That Affected LGBT Community

The social networking site will not change its requirement for people to use "real" names on their profiles, but it will adjust how alleged violations are reported and enforced.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.