Solving the Riddle of Old Tom Gin

A minor, but persistent, historical mystery in the annals of alcohol is the precise nature of the great 19 th-century English favorite, Old Tom gin.

If you like Charles Dickens and his teeming world of characters, you will have come across it. If you’re the type who find amusement in poking through yellowing old cocktail volumes and contemplating the drinks your great-grandmother knocked back when she was on a spree, you’ll be more than familiar with it, as the spirit appears in the early recipes for the Martini, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Tom Collins, and a number of other suffering classics of American mixology.

Even if you’re not so interested in the book-work, if you still am worried about what you drink you’re likely to have come across it in the places where serious cocktail-sipping is done these days, and on the shelves of the sort of liquor store that stocks 12 orange liqueurs, 21 mezcals, and 32 different gins.

That’s a fairly new development. A decade ago, you would have searched in vain for an example of Old Tom gin. The last brand standing, Boord’s, was a bottom-shelf lurker with distribution that could best be described as “quixotic” or “semi-fictional.” Old Tom was one of those old-fashioned favorites that only couldn’t keep up with the modern world. That fact imbued it with a good deal of sparkle dust in the eyes of cocktail geeks: Along with absinthe, rye whiskey, Dutch genever, Batavia arrack, and weird old liqueurs such as creme de violette and Creme Yvette, Old Tom was one of those things the modern world had taken away from us; one of the very best old tipples we were forced to trade for Midori, spiced rum, and 138 different flavors of vodka. We wanted it back.

The only problem: We didn’t really know what it was , not exactly. Even worse , now, after 10 years and at least a couple of dozen different new Old Tom gins on the market, we still don’t. The books–including some by me–will tell you that it was what came before London dry gin; that it was sweetened; that sometimes it spent a little time in the barrel, and that–well, that’s pretty much where they stop. Those things aren’t precisely incorrect. For mixing the occasional drinking, they’re probably all you need to know. But they’re not the whole story , not by a long shot.

The real story has been elusive for a reason. In component, that’s because it involves the complex, ever shifting British excise tax system( and a lot of math ). But it’s also because it’s a story that, back in 19 th-century London, a lot of people didn’t especially want told. Old Tom gin was a” compound spirit ,” and compound spirits were the hot dogs of the drinks world: If you considered what went into it, you probably wouldn’t let it pass your lips.

Before getting into Old Tom itself, we’ve got to take a quick look at how the gin industry ran in 19 th-century England. What follows is a little complicated, but I’ll try to keep it as clear as possible.

The Gin Trade

To attain gin in 1800 s London, you would have started with a grain spirit. You had to buy this alcohol from a” malted distiller ,” one of a handful of huge-scale operators located in the out-of-the-way, industrial parts of the metropolis or in the surround counties.( After the Gin Craze of the early 1700 s, when it seemed like a quarter of the houses in London had a gin-still somewhere on the premises turning out what was basically liquid fissure, the British government adjusted the excise laws so that as few people as possible did the actual fermenting of grain and distilling of alcohol. Easier to control, and much easier to tax .) What you got from these firms was basically whiskey, double pot-distilled and unaged, sold at the standard strength of” 1 to 10 overproof” or” 7 degrees overproof ,” depending on whether you used Clarke’s hydrometer or Sikes’s. Or, as we would set it after doing a lot of math( they measured alcohol rather differently than we do ), 61 percent alcohol.

That whiskey, or rather” raw spirit ,” as the government labeled it with admirable franknes, wasn’t like the stuff that goes into barrels to become single-malt Scotch. For one thing, it didn’t have to be made purely from malted. There could be some wheat in there, although not more than a third of the total grain. There could be rye, unmalted barley and/ or oats, as well as brewer’s draff( the stuff left over from building beer ), spoiled, rat-bitten or saltwater-damaged barley, and all the other rubbish of the grain world. For another thing, the distillers were so heavily taxed that everything was about volume. They fermented as fast as possible, simmered off the alcohol in weird-shaped, shallow stills that could be worked rapidly, and didn’t worry much about making a clean cut. Nor could you really shop around for a better spirit: The malted distillers worked as a cartel, and any of them trying to charge more or less or sell a better product was quickly brought into line.

The next step in the chain was the “rectifier.” Rectifiers took the raw whiskey, redistilled it once to round off some of the rough edges and a second period with a mix of botanicals to flavor it( we’ll get at that ), watered it down, put it in barrels or huge earthenware jugs, and sold it. They had to water it down, because the government mandated that a” compound spirit “– basically, any spirit that had been flavored, be it cherry brandy, orange Curacao, “mint-water,” or, of course, gin–couldn’t be sold above a certain proof: 22 degrees under proof( 44.6 percentage alcohol by volume) until 1819, 17 under proof( 47.4 percent ABV) after that. I can’t think of any other reason for this law than to keep gin from being too strong; too keep the street corners of London free of heaps of random drunks, passed out and drooling.

After the rectifier came the retailer: the public house on the corner, the wine and spirits merchant up on the high street. What the customer wanted from them was something strong and piney and sweet–gin was invariably sweetened for consumption–and, perhaps most importantly, inexpensive. Gin was not an elegant spirit; British aristocrats did not sip it in their drawing rooms. Gin was what marketplace females drank on wet, biting mornings; what coachmen nipped on while awaiting by their ponies; what you scraped together your farthings and ha’pennies for a shot of. It was the poor man’s solace; the nearest exit, open to all.

At 47.4 percentage ABV, what the publican and the wine-seller bought from the rectifier was strong enough, but it was unsweetened and still pretty expensive, even after the rectifier held back a good chunk of the alcohol. Their solution was the same as the modern-day corner drug dealer: They stepped on it. “Reduced” it, to use the word of art. That meant dumping the gin into a vat and adding sugar and water and, in a great many cases, a “doctor.” That was a little proprietary formula that each retailer would mix in to build the watered-down gin taste like it wasn’t watered down. Some cayenne pepper or grains of paradise for bite, a little sulfuric acid to make it throw off the right sized bubbles( the working-man’s way of testing the strength of a spirit was to shake it and look at the sizing and perseverance of the bubbles ), maybe a little quicklime to clarify it, a dash of carbonate of potash and a little alum to dry it out. The government didn’t care what you added or how much: There was no Pure Food and Drug Act and no minimum proof at which compound spirits could be sold until 1879.

Comb through London newspapers from the early 19 th century, and you’ll come across countless advertisings from the merchants hawking the scope of gin they carried. But that range wasn’t different brands, like it is today. It was all the same gin, but reduced to different degrees. At the top of the listing was ” unsweetened gin ,” unreduced and straight from the rectifier–basically, London dry gin, just like we have today[ SEE BELOW ]. That was always expensive. Maybe not as much as imported French Cognac, but more than a poor person could afford.( This was mean not for people who liked to drink their gin unsweetened, of whom there were very few indeed, but instead for those working finicky working-class aristocrats who preferred to reduce their own gin and thus drink it un-doctored and were able to pay for the privilege .)

Then came the various grades of” cordial gin ,” gin that had been reduced, from the most gently stepped-on to–well, in an 1854 analysis of gins sold in London, the Lancet discovered some tested out to as low as 22 percent ABV. The 39 percentage change in ABV between the 61 percentage of the raw spirit and that 22 percentage meant a lot of profit for somebody and a pretty nasty, heavily-doctored dram for the poor soul who could afford no better.

Old Tom

London had a lot of rectifiers, but only a few big ones. Many of their names are enshrined in the history of gin: Philip Booth& Sons, Seager and Evans, Nicholson Bros, Tanqueray& Currie, and Gordon, Son& Knight all made it into the 20 th century in one form and another, and a couple of the names have survived into the 21 st. Others fell by the wayside early: David Deady, John Liptrap, and Charles Smith were each resulting rectifiers and helped shape the gin we drink today, but their names faded early. Another one that didn’t make it to the 20 th century was perhaps the most famous of all.

Sometime in the 1770 s, Benjamin Hodges, an enterprising young man from Gloucestershire, began rectifying gin in Millbank, a little enclave of Westminster tucked up against the Thames between Westminster Abbey and the fast-disappearing bit of open land known as Tothill Fields. In 1800, give or take a couple of years, he took his kinsman, Thomas Chamberlain, on as a partner. It was a strong partnership: Hodges had a good head for business and Chamberlain knew everything about distilling and rectifying.

When a potential customer–a vintner or a publican–would stop in at the distillery, Chamberlain would treat him to a glass of gin, pre-reduced and ready to drinking. For an ordinary sort of client, this would be an ordinary kind of gin, something reduced to, perhaps, 37 percent ABV, sweetened with about an ounce-and-a-half of sugar per quart( the average in the Lancet ‘ s test ). If, however, it was ” a desirable customer, whom it was considered advisable to propitiate ,” as the editor of Notes& Queries wrote in 1868, apparently from working knowledge, Chamberlain would invite him into the little laboratory he kept at the back of the distillery, where he did all his compounding, and treat him to a glass of his “particular.” This was a instead stronger gin: just as sweet, but not reduced beyond 47.4 percent ABV, the highest legal proof.( There was no statute to avoid rectifiers from doing this, but it was uneconomical, as the customers were going to add their own sugar anyway and had no incentive to pay extra for pre-sweetened gin, which meant that the rectifier had a duty to throw in the sugar for nothing .)

Before long, of course, word get out, and even the ordinary kind of clients were asking for Chamberlain’s particular, and” Old Tom’s gin” became a sort of watchword for the very best stuff. In 1810, it constructed it into print for the first time, when a correspondent for the London Statesman dropped it into got a couple of columns on the impromptu sporting activities of the kinds of people who drink gin. By 1812, it was being advertised in the newspapers. Not by Hodges& Chamberlain, of course, but by the retailers they sold their gin to. Before long, other retailers accommodated the word, even if they bought their gin from Philip Booth or Seager& Evans or David Deady. As one vintner explained it in 1830, it was only the” best and strongest cordial gin” that was ” sold under the general name of Old Tom .” If it wasn’t at maximum legal proof, like the stuff Old Tom poured in his laboratory, “its just” under.

Old Tom himself was dead by 1817. By then, Benjamin Hodges and his son, Benjamin George, had moved the distillery directly across the river to Lambeth, where it would attain enormous amounts of gin until the 1870 s, when Benjamin Goeorge’s son Frederick was forced to sell out. Early on, though, the firm had cemented its reputation by bottling its Old Tom in sealed, labeled–branded, in other words–bottles and shipping them worldwide. Hodges Old Tom was the instance everyone reached for when they needed to name a London gin. It was a premium product, the best on the market. Even if it was too late to trademark the name, Londoners knew.

Finally, we have to ask just what was in those bottles? One of them attained it into the Lancet examine, and that devotes us some basic information. It was strong, for one thing: 48.2 percent ABV, which was actually above the legal proof. Sugar was five-and-a-half ounces per gallon, which works out to 26 grams–just under an ounce–for a 750 -milliliter bottle. That’s sweet, but not liqueur sweet( some gins tested had more than three times that amount ). By 1854, the base spirit that Hodges was buying from the malt distillers would have been much cleaner and lighter than anything Old Tom himself worked with, since the distillers had be changed to modern continuous stills, much like the ones used today. There would have been a little coloring to the gin: an 1859 description of a visit to the distillery notes, besides the four huge pot-stills,” about 60 immense vats ,” huge wooden tanks where the gin was pumped when it came off the still. These would have worked much like the vats reposado tequila goes into to remainder after distillation.

Then there were the botanicals. Here, we have to guess: as distiller William Augustus Smyth noted in 1781, gin” has as many different flavors, as there are distillers who make it .” That was still true in 1854, and it’s still true now. But Hodges was a quality distiller, which meant that they would have utilized actual juniper berries in their distillation. Less scrupulous distillers utilized oil of juniper, or even turpentine.( Again, there was no FDA to keep them honest .) To round out the juniper, there would be coriander, for its lemony notes, angelica root, which boosts the flavor of the juniper, a little orris root, which helps to tie the other flavors together, and perhaps a couple more botanicals as grace notes–orange peel, grains of paradise, almonds, calamus root.

In 1879, the British government ultimately set a minimum strength of 37 percent ABV at which compound spirits could be retailed. This basically put an end to retailers reducing their own gin, as the most profit came when you added the most water. Besides, thanks to innovators, such as Hodges& Co ., who insisted on bottling their own product, customers knew what the real stuff was supposed to taste like. Strong, more than a little sweet, with a nice ping of juniper. Merely the thing to mix with a little lemon juice and some soda water, or a splashing of sweet vermouth and got a couple of dashes of orange bitters.

The real mystery to Old Tom gin, after all this, is that it has been hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t some secret precursor of London dry gin; it had no arcane special ingredients or antiquated formulae. From the 1840 s on, “its just” neutral spirit flavored with the same botanicals used in London dry gin to this day. If you want to mix up some of those vintage Old Tom beverages, you can buy a bottle of one of the new bottlings on the market, of course. Or you can make like those finicky, working-class aristocrats and reduce your own. All it takes is a 750 -milliliter bottle of Beefeater or Tanqueray or other old-school gin–still bottled at 47 percentage alcohol( I love tradition !)– a little sugar and a little water. Five teaspoons of sugar, to be precise( or 26 grams, to be preciser ), dissolved over a low flame in half an ounce of water. Let it cool, pour it into the bottle and bam: Old Tom.

It’ll be a little cloudy, but to get rid of that you need egg whites and sulfuric acid and–better let it be cloudy. If you have one of those little barrels people age cocktails in, you can set the gin in there for a week or so if you want.

But whichever you do, purchase or reduce, be sure to lift a glass to old Thomas Chamberlain, who knew everything there was to know about gin, and more than a little about customer relations.

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‘These Storms Are Just Crazy’: Craft Beer Brewers Are Feeling Effects Of Climate Change

Hurricane Irene’smarch through Vermont’s Mad River Valley in 2011 tore down bridges and turned roads to rubble in townships like Waterbury. The cyclone littered businesses and city offices with debris and sewage, and injury close to 100 homes.

One of its victims was The Alchemist brewpub, which owneds John and Jen Kimmich had built from the ground-up into a darling of the craft beer scene, known throughout New England for Heady Topper, its standout India pale ale.

Boston Globe via Getty Images Alchemist brewery owners John and Jen Kimmich

When the water receded, very little in the brewery was salvageable. If the Kimmichs were ever going to make Heady Topper again, they would have to start from scratch.

“We had a decision to attain — either make an insurance assert and sell our business, or double down, focus on growth and rehire everyone, ” says Jen Kimmich. She and her husband opted for the latter, rebuilding on higher ground with a stronger structure.

In the face of a changing climate, craft breweries such as The Alchemist are feeling the impacts. More than 5,000 craft breweries now operate across the U.S ., and many were built in affordable but precarious places, like floodplains or woods, attaining them especially vulnerable to extreme weather events like Hurricane Irene and shifting climate patterns that threaten their business.

Breweries rely on raw ingredients such as hops, water and grain, and supplies can be choked off by drought, storms or pests. These problems will only become more intense with climate change, scientists say.

Bloomberg via Getty Images Hops

Climate sways have already resulted in U.S. hop shortages that had brewers sourcing from as far away as Argentina. To survive the next climate-driven hop squeeze, Kimmich has a plan. “The best style we can mitigate that risk is to pre-pay for hops, ” she says. “That sets us first in line in case there’s another shortage.”

The Alchemist isn’t alone in pre-paying for hops. Most craft breweries purchase hop contracts — several years in advance, in some cases. However, if hop shortfalls become more frequent, which scientists have predicted will happen in some regions due to climate change, there may not even be a line for purchasers to wait in. Nature has a habit of hurling a wrench into things.

Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Massachusetts, experienced that firsthand this year, when hops the operators expected from western Massachusetts were delayed, then canceled.

“Unfortunately, due to the late-season warm climate this year, the harvest was not ready until style later than expected, ” says Ben Holmes, co-owner of Aeronaut. “Finally, when[ they] were about to harvest, they were hit by a bad blight, which knocked out the entire crop.”

Aside from shocks to his hops supplying, Holmes has had to contend with rising utility bills imposed by the city to address its aging sewer and blizzard drainage systems, which officials say are ill equipped to handle major storms and rising seas.

“As Somerville tries to cope with climate change, we are facing bigger and bigger challenges with flooding, mitigation of which is necessitating major infrastructure investments which are incidentally being tacked onto our water bill proportional to use, ” Holmes says.

Boston Globe via Getty Images A girl jumps over a puddle after a heavy rain in Davis Square in Somerville, MA, in September

Since his brewery use a lot of water — not just for beer, but also for cleaning tanks, hoses and kegs — Aeronaut objective up paying a lot toward Somerville’s cost of preparing for climate change. In fact, craft breweries across the nation are investing in wastewater therapy and solar power generation to offset rising utility bills.

New Belgium Brewing Co.’s solar panels, for example, generate almost 5 percent of the power for its packaging facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Co ., meanwhile, has installed an anaerobic digester to convert trash into biogas that’s recycled back into the brewery.

But Steve Frazier, head brewer at The Brewer’s Art in Baltimore, Maryland, says it’s not always easy for small craft breweries to enact resiliency measures like hop contracts or infrastructure buildouts because the return on investment isn’t as obvious. What’s more, he says, “smaller outfits can’t usually budget for big efficiency projects when they are just opposing to remain relevant, or trying to meet production demands.”

Boston Globe via Getty Images Cans of Heady Topper

Aside from hops, Frazier also worries about the effects climate change will have on beer’s other main ingredients: barley and water. While the amount of water used to stimulate beer varies, it is estimated to take roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer. Many big craft breweries — like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Stone — have opened production facilities on the East Coast, in big component to lower distribution expenses, but also, Frazier believes, to soften the blow of continued water scarcity in the West.

“I don’t think any of the West Coast breweries that have recently opened Eastern coast facilities would come right out and say it, but I gamble it will get really expensive to brew brew out West in the next 20 years if water gets any more scarce, ” Frazier says.

While not a direct solution, dozens of craft brewers have signed the Brewery Climate Declaration, which calls attention to the effects of climate change on the industry and outlines actions breweries are already taking. That includes Michigan’s Brewery Vivant sourcing 100 percentage of its energy from renewable sources and California’s North Coast Brewing Co. diverting more than 90 percentage of its brewery waste from the landfill.

“We hope that by signing onto pacts such as this one, and doing everything we can to keep this topic visible, we can make it clear that businesses must give a damn about climate change, ” says Holmes of Aeronaut Brewing.

Kimmich agrees. “On the heels of our chairwoman pulling out of Paris, we want to show that if the government won’t move in the face of climate change, business leaders will, ” she says. “The writing’s on the wall. The science tells us that climate change is real and it’s only speeding up. These storms are just crazy. I’m sure there’s more to come.”

Aleszu Bajak is a science journalist who teaches at Northeastern University.

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Amid California’s drought, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company is reducing its environmental footprint by making beer from recycled wastewater. The water, taken from sinks, showers and washing machines, hasn’t impacted the taste of the beer either. Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA passed a taste test at a Bay Area sustainability conference with flying colors last year. 

Check out the video above to see exactly how the brewing company makes the beverage. 

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Review: PicoBrew Pico

Brewing beer is a complex mixture of art and science. To make a typical pilsner, for example, barley is malted, milled, then immersed in hot water to generate wort, a liquid that smells like the perfect breakfast. Hops are added for bitterness and flavor, then yeast to create complexity and, of course, make alcohol. Carbonation comes from forcing CO2 into the mix, or, with time, it can carbonate naturally, spurred along by feeding extra sugar to the yeast.

PicoBrew Pico

5/ 10


It constructs beer!


It’s loud, it’s bulky, and you don’t learn a lot about brewing.

How We Rate

1/ 10 A complete failure in every route 2/ 10 Sad, genuinely 3/ 10 Serious flaws; proceed with caution 4/ 10 Downsides outweigh upsides 5/ 10 Recommended with reservations 6/ 10 Solid with some issues 7/ 10 Very good, but not quite great 8/ 10 Excellent, with room to kvetch 9/ 10 Nearly flawless 10/ 10 Metaphysical perfection

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It seems like something out of One Sentence Startup Pitches, a 16,000+ strong Facebook group committed to mocking every half-baked elevator pitch out there. Hell, the group’s cover photo is a Photoshopped image of Mark Zuckerberg in front of a video wall emblazoned with the phrase “Facebook for dogs.”

Beer for dogs is real as fuck, though. And it should help you turn up with your favorite non-human companion.

These non-alcoholic, surprisingly mild refreshments come in meaty flavors and may not have the boozy effects of a normal brew, but dogs love them just the same. Dogs also have their pick of the litter, so to speak.

There’s Flat 12, which annually trots out its 12 Paws dog brew as part of a Jeffersonville, Indiana fundraiser and pet adoption festival known as Dogapalooza. But recently, another canine-inspired brew has hit the digital shelves, providing dogs around the world with the opportunity to chill out with a cold brew after a long day of licking their own asses.

Bottom Sniffer dog beer comes from Woof & Brew, a hippy-dippy U.K. tea and tonic company whose clientele are strictly man’s best friend. With such an auspicious name, you’d think Woof & Brew would’ve concocted this non-alcoholic doggie treat when it formally launched in 2013.

Nah, it didn’t need to. What with its “feel good” and “anxiety” blends of tonics, Woof & Brew had already contributed to the burgeoning legal doggie drug market out there, chilling pets out like an illicit tea house in the back of a bodega.

The Daily Dot has reached out to the folks behind Bottom Sniffer. Woof & Brew managing director Steve Bennett states that a veterinary surgeon was consulted prior to bringing Bottom Sniffer to life. Though getting your Schnauzer shitfaced sounds awesome in theory, it may be potentially dangerous for your dog.

“We take a great deal of care when developing a brew, ensuring that it is safe to drink,” Bennett explains. “It is brewed and bottled in a sterile environment to ensure that the brew remains in good condition for at least 18 months. I would not recommend this is something that could be done at home.”

Bennett and co. have tried Bottom Sniffer. He describes the beer as “not at all unpleasant” and similar to a “malt drink,” which is pretty much a ringing endorsement if you’d like to swap your Colt 45s for something a little less liver-wrecking.

Making beer can be a difficult science, a time-consuming endeavor that’s as many parts patience as it is rotting grains and potent yeast. Woof & Brew may have high standards but lucky for brewers catering to dogs, their clients really don’t give a shit. Hell, they eat excrement right up.

Prepare yourselves for an onslaught of doggie home brewers DIY’ing their way into turning their canine companions into drinking buddies.

Update 6:29pm CT,June 3: This piece was updated to include a quote from Woof & Brew.

H/T BroBible

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PicoBrew blindsides Kickstarter backers with astound stretching aim

PicoBrew has been around for a while, building beer brewing easy, even for people who dont know the difference between hops and hops. The companys current Kickstarter campaign is for the Pico C, a small home brewing appliance to induce brewing even easier, using a Nespresso-style cartridge approach to inducing your own home brews. Today, the company announced a surprise upgrade option to its campaign a whole new gadget. The PicoStill is a small still to construct hard liquor from the beer you made with the Pico C. Im not sure these types of surprises are a great idea.

On the topic of moonshine, I should point out that the company( wisely) doesnt indicate you go and brew your own gin right off the at-bat. PicoStill can be used to distill hop oil, water, and essential petroleums. Licensed and correctly permitted craft distillers can also use the PicoStill to make a broad range of alcohols, including vodka, whiskey, bourbon, moonshine, gin, brandies, schnapps and more. Can you hear the wink, wink, nudge, nudge in that sentence, right around where it says licensed and properly permitted craft distillers? Yeah, me too.

Anyway. As arousing as it is to spring a whole additional piece of kit on your backers, Im not going to lie: I really hope that this isnt the start of a trend. Hardware startups are hard( I should know ), and scaling hardware fabricating is an art in itself. Weve watched many of the most popular hardware crowdfunding campaigns crumble under their own weight( ahem, were looking at you, Coolest Cooler ), not least because they added layers and layers of complexity to a product as so-called stretch goals. Adding a whole new piece of equipment to the mixture is brave , to set it mildly.

Dont get me wrong; PicoBrew is an excellent company, and theyve successfully delivered on promises in the past. Theres nothing that makes me think that itwont deliver this time, too. I further admit that a $479 brewing machine/ still early-bird kit is causing my thumb to hover over the pledge now button. The believed to be having a home brewery and still in my ownhome is so unbearably cool that I barely know what to do myself. Of course, thats exactly what marketing is meant to do( It ran! Congratulation .)

Having said that: Surprising backers with major changes halfway through a campaign induces it much harder to do due diligence. Whenever you back a campaign on any crowdfunding campaign, you should ask yourself, Do the promises a company is making about a product make sense? Do I have faith in their ability to deliver? The provide answers to that question could change significantly if the campaign changes the goalposts halfway through, and constructs it much harderto be a diligent crowdfunding backer.

PicoStill is available now to Kickstarter backers for $170, or packaged with the Pico Model C for $479. It will retail for $349 when it hittings stores afterwards this fall.

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Review: Midwest Supplies’ Beer. Simply Beer .’ Brewing Kit

Ifirmly believethat thekitchen isan incredible source of knowledge, and that you can’t genuinely understand something you love until you try constructing it yourself. If you love beer, these banalities yield a glorious thing.

Homebrewing is somethingof a national passion, but I’ve never delved into it, largely becausethere’s so much great beer producedby people who know what they’re doing. When homebrewers I know offera bottle, it often comes with a side of excuses explaining what they think went wrong and how the next batchwill be better. Brewers’ pride runs deep.

Still, I wanted to give homebrewing a shot, and theMidwest Supplies” Beer. Simply Beer .” starter kit seemed perfect for afirst-timer. The concept: Everything you need in one box so you can induce five gallons of brew, complete with instructions to make it simple, for only 50 bucks.

What could go wrong?


First , note that “everything” is somethingof a misnomer. $50 does not get you one key piece of equipment–a kettle in which to boil the wort that will become your beer. I had a big pot, but you if you don’t, Midwest offers one for $40. You don’t get bottles, either, so figure another $30 for empties unless you collect and clean your own.

Once I’d thoroughly read through the instructions and watched a few YouTube videos, brewing day ran instead smoothly. I experienced only a couple of problems, the worst of which was my five-gallon kettle wasn’t quite big enough. It simmered over onto my stovetop. I objective up brewing in two pots, side by side, which worked out fine.

Making beer is far less complex than stimulating wine( which I documented for WIREDin 2008 ), where technology can be a great friend. To ferment brew you simplyput it in a big plastic bucket with yeast, and, two weeks later, bottle the finished product. This is the messiest part of the operation, involving siphons and hoses and lots of spilling. After investing about two and a half hours on brewing day and another two and a half on bottling day, I aimed up with 45 bottles of pale ale. Ignore the cost of the pot( and the shipping ), and that comes to about $1.78 bottle. Future batches would of course be much more cost effective.

I was wholly expecting to screw it all up, but a month after brewing day, I cracked open a bottle and detected it amazingly drinkable. The beer possesseda nice, foamy head( though this vanishes too quickly ), and aflavor, is coming from Cascade hops, familiar to any fan of, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It offered a pleasingbalance of malted and hops in the body, and afinish I foundquite bitter without being overwhelming. It’s hardly an earth-shattering ale, but it’s much better than Bud. I guess I’m a brewer now.


My primary issue is theincredibly sloppy instructions. In fact, the kit includes two sets of instructions, and they don’t always agree. How “optional” is secondary fermenting?( Given that you don’t get a secondary fermenting, pretty optional .) How does the included hydrometer work, and why do you need? What about the bottle filler? And how does the included packet of oxygen washing sanitizer work? Given how critical cleanliness is to beermaking, failing to include specific instructions for usingsanitizer is a crazy oversight.

Still, I seem to have stumbled through well enough( and Midwest’s on-call brewmaster is thereif you have questions ), but a revamp of the brewing instructions as a pictorial guidebook with much finer detail would go a long way toward ensuring you don’t screw up–and induce that month of waiting all the less stressful.

All told I’m quitehappy with the knowledge gained from the process and moderately impressed with the beer–even though now all I truly want is a Racer 5.


7/ 10 – Very good, though not quite great.

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How the Soviets helped America’s craft beer revolution

A Russian pagan republic championed hops before microbreweries went mainstream now it wants to be back on the global beer map, The Calvert Journal reports

Cheboksary is only a night train ride away from Russias capital but it could be on another planet. By 10am the temperature is already approaching the high twenties, its trees are decorated with ribbons and animal bones, and shop windows are painted with intricate geometric designs.

The city is the capital of the Chuvashia Republic, a place that has for centuries defied Russian Christian hegemony and where locals still conduct colourful pagan rituals and follow a pantheon of gods.

The republic is also one of the worlds oldest beer-producing regions, with a tradition of harvesting hops and drinking beer as part of their religious worship.

Now, in a bid to return to its former glory as a Soviet-era hop superpower, local scientists and brewers are hoping that the craze for microbreweries springing up from Moscow and St Petersburg could once again bring investment to Chuvashs farms.

Celebrations in Cheboksary, Russias pagan heartland. Illustration: Ivan Mikhailov

Beer revolution

While American brewers experimenting with hops in the 1970s have been credited with kickstarting the global craft beer revolution, few people know that the movement might not have been possible without scientists working in Chuvash during Soviet times.

Thanks to its historic love of beer and its unique microclimate steep terrains and hot summers Chuvashia was the obvious location to produce beer to quench the thirst of the industrial workers across the USSR, quickly transforming the Republic into a hop-growing superpower.

By the late 1980s, local sovkhozes (state farms) were producing 95% of all hops for the Soviet Unions beer. Known locally as Chuvashias green gold, hops were so ubiquitous they appeared in everything from ice-cream to shampoo.

Hop-farming quickly became a prestigious scientific discipline which demanded its own bureaucratic hierarchy. The first Soviet hop research institute was established just outside Cheboksary.

One of the regions signature products the flavoursome Serebryanka later inspired scientists at the University of Oregon to breed Cascade, a citrus-flavoured hop which has now become popular with craft brewers.

Sampling todays local beers. Photograph: Ivan Mikhailov/Calvert Journal

Post Soviet decline

But the glory days werent to last. When the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s, Chuvashias hop empire followed suit, unable to compete with the international beer giants flooding the Russian market and sweeping away local factories.

In the 1980s there were 35,000 acres of hop fields in Chuvashia, today that number is down to just 200. Much of the remaining crop is looked after by the Chuvash Hop Institute, which sees the resurgence of artisanal breweries as an opportunity to promote the region as a quality supplier of hops.

The institutes director, Andrey Fadeev, is optimistic. The whole world is going crazy about aromatic hops. We cant lose this opportunity, he says.

Hed like some of the bigger beer factories inthe Urals and Siberia to consider Chuvashia as a viable national alternative to European suppliers.

Andrey Fadeev in his hop fields. Photograph: Ivan Mikhailov/Calvert Journal

The hop institute has recently restored some of the machines in its brewery and is building an alliance with a brand-new factory in Tsvilisk to process delicate raw hops into long-lasting pellets which are more compact and easier to transport.

But it doesnt have a working brewery, and Fadeev concedes that there is a lot more work to be done to restore the area to its former superpower status. We need hundreds of tractors, modern equipment, young folks, he says.

The hop vault

Even if it is not currently making beer, hops are still being cultivated and Fadeev offers a tour around one of the institutes fields outside of Tsivilsk, a town 20 miles (32km) away from Cheboksary.

The crops are tended to manually by a small group of scientists-cum-farmers, who are mostly women. They study and take care of the plants as the temperatures hit the mid-thirties.

Zoya Nikonova is one of the academics who has spent most of her life preserving the legacy of Chuvash hops. We grow hundreds of hops which we bring to Chuvashia from all over the world from New Zealand to Germany, she explains .

Zoya Nikonova, a custodian of Chuvash hop treasures. Photograph: Ivan Mikhailov/Calvert Journal

Nikonova compares their work to Svalbards global seed vault in its mission to sustain a wide variety of plants for future generations including the legendary Serebyanka.

The semi-wild breed with hints of blackcurrant hasnt been efficient to grow, Nikonov says, pointing a a row of indiscreet pale-looking stems of a plant that kicked off the craft beer revolution.

As the team at the institute works to preserve the history of the glory days, there are signs around the region that the locals have never forgotten their green gold.

Many are skilled home-brewers and beer is often presented as a gift at weddings and important occasions including Seren, a pagan holiday on which evil spirits are expelled with barrels of alcohol and wild dancing.

A version of this article first appeared on The Calvert Journal, a guide to the new east

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Impress Your Friends By Making Beer Cheese Fondue For The Game This Weekend

When football season rolls around, there’s nothing better than watching your favorite team surrounded by friends, beer, and cheesy snacks.

So what if I told you that I had a delicious recipe that combines the latter two into one epic treat? It exists, and it’s so yummy that your friends might even forget that the game is happening.

In between touchdowns, there’s plenty of time to indulge in beer cheese fondue. You can dip just about anything into this bowl of cheesy goodness, and the recipe will leave your guests coming back for more!

Read More: You Can Use Your Slow Cooker To Make Warm And Toasty Drinks This Winter

Here’s everything you need to know to make this boozy treat.


  • 1 cup pilsner-style beer
  • 1 lb shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch of paprika
  • Sea salt to taste


  1. Bring the beer to a boil over medium-high heat in a saucepan.
  2. Reduce the heat and allow the beer to simmer.
  3. In a bowl, combine the cheese and cornstarch. Add the mixture into the beer slowly.
  4. Mix in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, and salt.
  5. Serve immediately.

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