LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
During the holidays, beer manufacturers roll out seasonal brews. There's Ebenezer Ale. There's Santa's Private Reserve. And now, there's a relative newcomer for Hanukkah: the "Festival of Lights." It's a chocolate rye porter from a micro-brewer in Portland, Oregon. Part of a long history of Jewish brewers - a long history.
From the microbrew capital of Portland, Oregon, Deena Prichep reports.
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DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: A small craft brewery, Lompoc, in North Portland, produces about 3,000 barrels a year. Dave Fleming is the head brewer.
DAVE FLEMING: Now we've got water coming in, the augur on, and then we have the mill going and that's grinding. If you want to come up and take a look....
PRICHEP: This time of year, customers want something a little festive. So a few years back, Lompoc came up with a new beer.
FLEMING: We had a gentleman here, Sam Orlansky, working with us, and he's Jewish, and he wanted to make a Hanukkah brew. So we thought it was a great idea - we already had six Christmas beers going anyhow, so why couldn't we have a seventh one for Hanukkah?
PRICHEP: Lompoc ended up with a chocolate rye porter, called 8 Malty Nights. It's become one of their more popular winter beers. And they're not alone - a few others, like Schmaltz Brewery, are also bringing Jewish beers to market. But they're not the first.
MARNIE DAVIS: The story of Jews brewing beer - at least in recorded history - begins really far back, at the Babylonian exile.
PRICHEP: Marnie Davis is the author of "Jews and Booze," and teaches history at Georgia State University. She says that even though beer is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, it is kosher. And Jews have brewed it all through history, from Persia to Europe, and into America.
DAVIS: Central European Jews who found themselves in cities where A, there weren't a lot of Germans, and B, there wasn't a brewery yet, I found several examples of these Jews actually founding breweries.
PRICHEP: One of the biggest was New York's Rheingold Brewery, founded by Samuel Leibmann. But Davis says, for the most part Jewish breweries cropped up in smaller, non-German cities - places like Denver or Anaheim. Unfortunately, even the most successful of these breweries had to empty out their kegs in 1919. Well, at least officially.
DAVIS: The most important Jewish beer entrepreneurs during Prohibition were the bootleggers, the gangsters. They were operating with Irish and Italian immigrants. These sorts of inter-ethnic crime syndicates really helped to maintain the presence of alcohol, and beer in particular, in American life.
PRICHEP: After Prohibition, small Jewish breweries - like small breweries everywhere - were edged out by the big guys. It's only in the last few years, with the microbrewery revival, that we're starting to see them again. So does this long history mean that we've had it all wrong? That Jews really are the people of the hops? Davis says beer isn't particularly Jewish, but it is a part of Jewish life.
DAVIS: Beer is one of the ways that Jews can become part of the culture that they're in, and they can do it as Persians, they can do so as German-Americans in the beer gardens of Cincinnati, and they could do it today, as producers of cheeky beers that are coming out of craft breweries right as we speak.
PRICHEP: Cheeky beer like 8 Malty Nights, which is doing great, says brewer David Fleming.
FLEMING: It really worked well, we were very impressed. And it was one of the hits of the year. This'll be the third year we've made it.
PRICHEP: Lompoc has already brewed 60 kegs for the holiday season. And, perhaps even more importantly - it goes great with Hanukkah latkes. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep, in Portland, Oregon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.