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A Revolutionary Label for a
Revolutionary Beer

Posted by at 7:06 pm | Category: From the Archives 0

Anchor Brewing historian Dave Burkhart tells the story of Liberty Ale’s first ride.

1975 was a banner year for Fritz Maytag, his brewery, and the history of craft beer in America. In that one year we added three new beers—Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn, and Our Special Ale, AKA Anchor Christmas Ale—to our “lineup” of Anchor Steam and Anchor Porter. With Liberty Ale— first brewed on the eighteenth of April, in ’75—the inspiration for the beer came from England while the inspiration for the label came from America.

We dry hop Liberty Ale by loading nylon-mesh bags of dry Cascade hops into the cellar tanks before filling the tanks with beer.

Liberty Ale is the quintessential American pale ale. Yet its distinctive hop bouquet is based on an old English tradition called “dry hopping.” English brewers prepared their ales for the long voyage to colonial India by adding hops directly to the casks. They knew that hops would act as a preservative but didn’t realize just how much aroma the hops would impart to their “India pale ales” until the first ships docked and the casks were tapped. Since the hops were “dry,” that is, not boiled with the wort, they had added aroma without adding bitterness.

When it was first released in the summer of 1975, Liberty Ale became the first dry-hopped beer in America in modern times. We used a single hop – Cascade – which was a new and relatively unknown variety in the mid-1970s. Combined with pale malt and our own ale yeast, the resulting balance of flavors and aroma remains a hallmark of Liberty Ale to this day.

Fritz knew from the beginning that his ale would be unique. And with America’s bicentennial on the horizon, it made sense that our English-style ale should have a patriotic American name. But why delay the celebration of America’s independence until 1976?

He remembered the opening stanza of Longfellow’s famous poem:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

We had a brew date! And many reasons to call our revolutionary beer Liberty Ale, not the least of which was the fact that silversmith Paul Revere, maker of America’s iconic Sons of Liberty bowl, was a Son of Liberty himself.

Jim Stitt and Fritz Maytag, 1979.

For a label, Fritz turned to his friend Jim Stitt, who had done such a beautiful job with Anchor Porter. Jim, who is to hops and barley what Monet is to water lilies, replaced the olive branch in the talons of our American eagle with the hops and barley that made Liberty Ale so unlike other American beers in the 1970s.

Next, Jim hand lettered the entire label in a style reminiscent of the eighteenth-century typeface of English typographer John Baskerville (1706–1775(!)). This BLOG is set in an old Baskerville font. Jim’s letterforms were deliberately a bit crude, evocative of proclamations and broadsides from the Revolution. Even the colors are suggestive of an eighteenth-century American flag.

We bottled our first brew of Liberty Ale on June 26, 1975. In the bottling book, one can still see the remnants of a label, carefully pasted in thirty-seven years ago.

On June 26, 1775—200 years to the day before we bottled Liberty Ale—George Washington wrote to the New York Congress:

May your every wish be realized in the success of America, at this important and interesting Period; and be assured that the every exertion of my worthy Colleagues and myself will be equally extended to the re-establishment of Peace and Harmony between the Mother Country and the Colonies, as to the fatal, but necessary, operations of War. When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in that happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations, shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.

The Revolution had begun.

EPILOGUE

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at 105 Brattle Street. It was in this very house that George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775. Longfellow’s most famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” however, is as much a product of antebellum America in the nineteenth century as it is antebellum America in the eighteenth. It was first published—exactly as it appears below—in the Atlantic Monthly (Vol. VII, No. XXXIX) in January 1861, just a few months before the outbreak of the Civil War:

PAUL REVERE’S RIDE.

LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend,—“If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said good-night, and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somersett, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge, black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack-door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
Up the light ladder, slender and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still,
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely, and spectral, and sombre, and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

It was twelve by the village-clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village-clock,
When he rode into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village-clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning-breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,—
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.

“Paul Revere’s Ride” is best thought of as poem first and history second, as Longfellow takes a number of poetic liberties with the facts of April 18 and 19. He even included some facts of his own. The pigeons, for example, played a role in Longfellow’s much-later ascent to the steeple of Christ (“Old North”) Church.

In 1863, Longfellow released a book of poems called Tales of a Wayside Inn, a sort of American Canterbury Tales. Wayside Inn was a name Longfellow coined after a visit to the old Howe Tavern in Sudbury, Massachusetts in October 1862. The frontispiece of the book’s first edition features Norwegian violin virtuoso Ole Bull (1810–1880) playing at a Wayside Inn soiree.

 Although he never performed, drank, or roomed at the inn upon which the book is loosely based, Bull was the inspiration for Longfellow’s “blue-eyed Norseman,” the storyteller who punctuated his Norwegian folk tales with Norwegian folk tunes.

But from the parlor of the inn
A pleasant murmur smote the ear,
Like water rushing through a weir;
Oft interrupted by the din
Of laughter and of loud applause,
And, in each intervening pause,
The music of a violin.

In Tales of a Wayside Inn, what was originally called “Paul Revere’s Ride” appears as “The Landlord’s Tale.” The landlord was based on innkeeper Lyman Howe.

Longfellow’s book put the little inn on the map. Its taproom, like our own—both at the brewery and now also at AT&T Park—delights visitors from all over the world.

 

The Wayside Inn taproom.

So lift a Liberty to Longfellow, midnight rides, and revolutionaries!

 


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