Fermenting Revolution

Some terms associated with beer

With “Oktoberfests” popping up all over, it seems a good time to grab a “growler” and get “krausened.”

The first “Oktoberfest” was in Munich in 1810, a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese von Saxe-Hildburghausen. (Ludwig became King Ludwig I, though the English-speaking world called him King Louis I.) The celebration was repeated the next year, and has grown to a festival with races, rides and, of course, beer. The official festival begins the third weekend of September and ends the first Sunday in October, which is usually Erntedankfest, the German equivalent of Thanksgiving. So those month-long beer-soaked festivals are just a way of prolonging the party.

German, though, also figures in “krausening.” People who make beer look for a foamy head when the mixture begins to carbonate. (The word is derived from the German for “frizzy.”) That’s not the same as the nice head beer-drinkers look for; in the brewing process, the “krausen” is bitter, and it mostly dissipates or is siphoned off as the brew matures.

In the Midwest, Heileman’s Old Style, a popular lager, advertised itself as “fully krausened,” even though most people didn’t know what that meant. (“Krausen” doesn’t appear in most dictionaries. and Old Style describes “krausening” as “double fermented.”) And it’s mostly in the Midwest that college students who have overindulged are sometimes described as “fully krausened.” It’s probably an attraction that “krausend” rhymes with “poisoned,” which is how one feels after drinking too much Old Style.

Old Style is probably not available in “growlers,” a jug, usually sixty-four ounces, in which to carry out beer. “Growlers” seem to be showing up in more bars as a (refillable) way to transport the draft beer experience home. In that respect, they’re a throwback to the days before bottled beer was readily available, when workmen would stop at the local bar with a covered steel pail for beer to carry home.

“Growlers” seem to be mostly an American experience, though some show up in Canada and Australia. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word’s first use to The New York Herald in 1888: “The employment by hands in a number of factories of boys and girls, under ten and thirteen years, to fetch beer for them, or in other words to rush the growler.” It may be called a “growler” because the carbonation made the pail sound as if it were growling, or maybe it was the stomachs (or disposition) of the workers awaiting the beer that was growling.

That history may be lost in the “krausened” brains of time.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: , , , , ,