A pioneer of what has become one of the nation’s greatest centers of microbrewing here in the San Diego area has died, at 94. The obituary indicates that donations in honor of Karl Strauss may be made to the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego. The Karl Strauss brewpubs always touted his Bavarian brewing heritage (he trained at the famous Weihenstephan academy), but never did I have an inkling that he might be Jewish. And, his official biography is ambiguous, noting:
I came to the United States on March 3, 1939.
Actually, it became obvious in 1938 – the crisis of ’38 – that war was unavoidable. When Mr. Chamberlain went to Munich with his umbrella and proclaimed “Peace in our Times” and all that, everybody with any brains who lived in Germany at the time knew he was blowing smoke.
This got me wondering, to what extent is there a tradition of Jewish brewers?* Beerhistory.com claims that King David himself might have been a brewer. However, the brewer’s hexagram (still seen on at least one lambic label that I know of) almost certainly originated separately from the Magen David (which itself may have had its earliest formal usage by a Jewish community in Prague–speaking of great potential for brewing connections!). I can say that, whatever the tradition might be, one of my wife’s cousins is carrying it on as a brewer at a microbrewery in Portland–obviously a source of considerable family pride!
The obituary on Strauss also indicates that he worked for macrobrewer Pabst for 44 years before setting up the breweries under his name in partnership with one of his cousins and another founder. Strauss had an interesting comment on his beers, compared to those that have made several of San Diego’s micorobreweries award-winners, as quoted in the obituary:
His goal, he noted, was â€œnot to make a bland beer â€“ but not one so distinctive that only 5 percent of the people drink it.â€
I am certainly in that 5%, but there are several excellent beers on the regular Strauss rotation, especially the Red Trolley Ale and several of his Bavarian-style lagers, notably his Amber and Oktoberfest.
To the memory of Karl Strauss: Prost, l’chaim, and alav hashalom.
* Some Google results:
According to a reviewer, a historian of German Jewish experience from the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War to 1780: “Excluded from landowning and most crafts (though the author surprisingly finds Jewish brewers in Berlin!), Jews frequently peddled used goods (especially clothing), dealt in livestock, engaged in money lending, or traded…” [my emphasis]
On 18 Adar, 1891, “A Russian imperial decree ordering the expulsion of all Jewish artisans, brewers, and distillers from Moscow.”
Best of all, at least two of the sages of the Talmud were brewers and “Rabbi Papa claimed that he became wealthy by being a beer brewer and recommended this occupation since it allowed one to become affluent and to be charitable”!