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Queen of the Hops


Queen of the Hops

Author: John de Hora
photograph by Meredith Heuer
Fifteen years ago, ex-schoolteacher Carol Stoudt was a
Pennsylvania Dutch hausfrau.

Today she can lay claim to being the
first lady of American brewing, her Stoudt's Brewery having won 21
medals since 1988 at the prestigious Great American Beer
Festival—more than any other brewery but one.
Her rise to the top of the beer business was neither swift nor
smooth, though. Carol Texter was born and raised in Adamstown, a
sleepy little Pennsylvania Dutch farm hamlet just off the old
highway that has connected Reading and Lancaster since colonial
times. She attended nearby Kutztown State Teachers College, then
returned to Adamstown for what she thought would be a quiet life as
the local kindergarten teacher.

It was after a teachers' union
meeting one evening in 1973 that she stopped with some friends for
a drink at Adamstown's Black Angus Steak House (now the Black Angus
Restaurant). Ed Stoudt, the proprietor, was tending bar that night,
and he bought the schoolteacher a drink. Two years later, he took
her on a honeymoon to Germany, where, among other things, they fell
in love with German beer.
Back in Pennsylvania farm country, the couple had five children,
and while Carol stayed at home to raise them, Ed continued to run
the Black Angus.

In 1978, on a piece of property between the
restaurant and an antiques mall that he also owns, he
constructed a large, semi-enclosed beer
garden inspired by those he'd seen
in Germany. There Ed wanted to be able to serve his customers a
top-quality American-brewed, European-style lager beer. When he
couldn't find an example that met his standards, he toyed briefly
with the idea of making one himself—until he learned that
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board regulations barred restaurant
owners from producing their own beer or wine.
That's when Carol stepped in.

The youngest of the couple's
children was about to start kindergarten, and Carol found herself
with spare time and energy. Why didn't she open a brewery, she
suggested, and sell the beer to Ed? He liked the idea, but the
local banks did not: small breweries were in trouble in
Pennsylvania. Until the 1970s, the state's strict enforcement of
the three-tier alcohol-distribution system gave de facto protection
from national competition to its small regional breweries. When the
big out-of-state producers increased their Pennsylvania market
share through aggressive promotional efforts, homegrown breweries
started to go belly up.

Before World War II, there had been as many
as 112 licensed beer producers in Pennsylvania; by 1985, when Carol
began thinking about starting her own brewery, only eight remained.
(The Pennsylvania beer industry has since rebounded, and there are
now 57 licensed breweries in the state.)
But that wasn't all the banks didn't like: Carol had no brewing
experience, and, anyway, who'd ever heard of a woman's making beer?
But Carol persisted, raising a large chunk of money by selling her
interest in the family home to her husband. Then, in the spring of
1986, she hired retired Pabst brew master Karl Strauss as a
consultant, and he told her what equipment to buy.

Once she'd made
the purchase, she found a bank that was willing to lend her some
money, using the equipment as collateral.
To learn the brewer's craft, Carol studied a dog-eared copy of
Brewing Lager Beer by Gregory J. Noonan. At Strauss's suggestion,
she also spent a few weeks apprenticing at the Abita brewery,
across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, which was using the
same brewing system she had ordered.

By the following spring, she
was up and brewing back home—stirring wort, rolling barrels, and
mopping floors in white galoshes and a sweatshirt, her hair in her
face, smelling like a brewery. Carol loved every minute of it.
''You have to understand,'' she says, ''how wonderful it is to sit
down after a hard day's work and taste something good that you
created.''
That
summer she released her first
beer, Golden Lager, inspired by southern Germany's popular
helles (light) ale.

It received mixed reviews. Some critics said
that it didn't taste like real German beer, but the judges at
that year's Great American Beer Festival disagreed: they gave it
a silver medal in the European Pilsner category. Other styles of
beer followed, and so did more awards. But the respect of
connoisseurs did not translate into sales.

The hardest part of
making beer, according to Carol, is selling it.Beyond her
husband's enterprises, she had trouble lining up accounts.
''People just looked at me like I was crazy,''she recalls.
Then Judy Wicks, the proprietor of a popular restaurant in
Philadelphia called the White Dog Cafe, read about Carol's awards
and found her number in the phone book.

''I want your beer in my
restaurant,'' Wicks said when she reached her. ''But I don't even
have a distributor in Philadelphia,'' Carol replied. ''I don't
care,'' said Wicks. ''I want it.

'' Soon Carol was schlepping kegs
of lager down the Pennsylvania Turnpike in her station wagon.
Today, Stoudt's Brewery's distinctive bottles (standard 12-ounce
beer bottles were too expensive, but Carol got a good deal on a
supply of 25-ounce wine bottles, which have now become her
trademark) appear on restaurant tables from Albany to Pittsburgh to
Richmond, Virginia.
The flavor of Stoudt's beer has something to do with what the
Pennsylvania Dutch call Bodegeschmack, which means ''the taste of
the land'' (i.e.

, in the food it produces). The brewery sits on the
Susquehanna Aquifer, an artesian well that contains extremely soft,
pure water. ''For ale and porter you want hard water,'' Stoudt
explains, ''but for good lager—and for pretzels—soft water is the
secret. ''That may explain why Lancaster claims to have once
produced fully 10 percent of the nation's lager beer—and why no
lesser a beer expert than H.

L. Mencken proclaimed Lancaster lager
to be the best beer in America.
Besides brewing, Carol helped form the Pennsylvania Small
Brewers' Guild, a lobbying group that promotes Pennsylvania beer
and works to repeal some of the state's archaic laws. (The PSBG was
instrumental in repealing the very law that propelled Carol into
the brewing business by keeping her husband out of it.

) Beer is a
food product, she stresses—and a lubricant for social discourse.
''It is not,'' she emphasizes, ''something that should be
controlled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.'' She
also thinks that the 21-year-old drinking age is ''ridiculous'',
creating more problems than it solves. American children, she
believes, should be taught to drink properly at home from an early
age, as European children are.


What does Carol want to do in the future? Maintain quality, she
claims. In Europe, she points out, there are small breweries and
wineries that have been offering the public a good product for
hundreds of years. For them, maintaining quality and passing on a
tradition is enough. ''That's what I want to do,'' she says.

''Pass
something on to my children that I am proud of.'' John de Hora
is a Pennsylvania writer specializing in beer and
food.

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