Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The beer they call liquor

Haffenreffer Private Stock, that supposed scourge of the inner city, 'liquid crack', ghetto-juice, actually has a respectable history with roots in Boston's brewing history. In fact, the site where it was orginally made is home to a national brewery that is either reviled or admired depending on your point-of-view. Boston's own Sam Adams Beer is made where the recipe for this supposed, modern urban scourge was first concocted:. As the label says: "Malt Liquor...with the imported taste." The Boston Brewing Co. is doing well on the foundations laid by Haffenreffer & Co. just after Prohibition was repealed. A little history.

When malt liquor was first introduced (please don't call it beer) it was sold as an upper class drink. The first national brand was 'Country Club' sold in tiny cans for cocktail party sipping because it tasted like champagne. The breed of yeast, among other things, lends understated, flavorful undertones reminiscent of fine wines. You can find this beverage in many corner package stores not just in Dorchester and Roxbury, but in East Boston, Charlestown, the South End, West Roxbury, Hyde Park, and in the surrounding communities of Somerville, Chelsea, Cambridge, Milton and Quincy.

Of course people now associate malt liquor with poverty, skid row, bums, and pocket-poor college students and hip-hop imressarios looking to make a quick endorsement buck. It didn't start out that way. I am just starting to scratch the surface of my malt liquor research (don't ask how this project came about) but one of the more popular, earlier brands was called Champale for a reason. It was intended for the upper crust or, at least, the upwardly mobile. Natty tennis players drank it. That's not an image you associate with gangsters sporting low-slung, baggy pants even if they can "sing."

Boston didn't invent malt liquor but the city, Jamaica Plain and Stony Brook in particular, played an important role in its evolution. Haffenreffer Private Stock is still made according to the original recipe and it is still sold here and enjoyed by thousands of Bostonians. To see how it matches up to other brands, click here. Indepent experts agree it stands up pretty well to the competition. Sam Adams would be proud.

If you are interested in malt liquor let me know. I prowl all the packies in the Dot and can offer reviews of what's on offer. It's a head-splitting job but somebody should do it to set the record straight.

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