Archive | September, 2007

The Belgians always understood the Beer Hunter

We (and I hope that includes you) toasted the life of Michael Jackson tonight, the words he gave us, and the beers for that matter.

I’m sure we will be again next week during the Great American Beer Festival.

This story from Martyn Cornell will be good to share then. The key paragraphs:

When I was researching the etymological roots of various European beer-related words, I discovered there had been a Gaulish personal name, Curmisagios, which translates as “the beer seeker”, or, if you like, “the beer hunter”. Among the tribes who lived in Gaul, home of Curmisagios, were the Belgae, whose own name was borrowed in 1790 by the subjects of the then Austrian Netherlands for the short-lived Etats-Belgiques-Unis – United States of Belgium – they set up during a soon-crushed rebellion against the Emperor in far-away Vienna.

The name Belgium was revived 40 years later, in 1830, by the Roman Catholic Flemings and Walloons of the old Austrian Netherlands for their own new country after they rose against the Protestant Dutch who dominated the post-Napoleonic United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In the 20th century the beers made in Belgium were championed by Michael Jackson, who – some of you can see where this is going already – called himself the Beer Hunter, and who was thus, in the language once spoken in ancient Belgium, the Curmisagios.

Cornell also is right to recommend Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion if you are going to read only one from the Beer Hunter.

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Pete Brown’s IPA goes bung up

Tragedy during the magic trip Pete Brown is taking along the old India Pale Ale route.

His report begins:

This entry comes from a web cafe in Tenerife about an hour before I board the Europa and sail across the Atlantic, both lighter of luggage and heavier of heart than I should be.

You know we’re not going to enjoy what comes next. Barry, the cask of IPA he was carrying from Burton-on-Trent to India, popped a bung and all the beer leaked out.

He’s back in transit, hoping a replacement cask catches up with him.

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Globalization versus local versus variety

local beer drinkersThe mantra of the American craft beer movement for going on 30 years has been, “Think globally, drink locally.”

And that means what?

Globalization can be a dirty word whether you are talking about beer or wine. In the case of beer that’s primarily because of pale, bland lagers the United States gets blamed for. In wine the issue has been the emergence alcoholic, one-dimensional fruit bombs – that a lot of people in fact enjoy – with the U.S. again getting much of the blame.

Guess what. The “wine effect” had spread into beer. New Wave beers first associated with the United States are popping up in other countries. The top-rated Imperial Stout at Rate Beer, Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter, is from Sweden, made with heather honey and aged on oak-barrels for 2½ months. Does that have extreme written all over it or what?

And, as I mentioned earlier this week Britain has its first Double IPA. Stonch’s review provoked an interesting discussion that I started to jump into. But, as you might have already figured out, I had a bit too much to say. So I’m typing here.

The key comments:

First Kieran Haslett-Moore said …

American beers lose subtlety and class in favour of extremeness, why would you want to go there? There are already crass US beers, would crass UK beers make things better?

“Where are the Belgian Strong Ales; the Flemish Sours; the proper hoppy Pilseners; the dunkels? They are just non-existent.”
They are in Belgium, and Germany and quite right to.

“Its brewers have no more connection to any one European brewing tradition that they do any others.”
Absolutely, that lack of connection leaves many such breweries with a slightly soulless range where every beer is totally different and equally out of context.

Then Ron Pattinson said…

Kieran, I couldn’t have put it better.

I like the fact that Britain, Germany and Belgium have their own individual beer cultures. How dull would it be if everything was brewed everywhere and regional differences disappeared?

I don’t want to drink a Kölsch brewed in the UK or USA. That completely misses the point about the beer. You’re right – it’s all about context.

Before I decided to move my words here I had typed:

Ron, I love the idea that it’s not only countries that have different beer cultures but that regions within a country may differ. Compare beer in Northern Germany to Bavaria. Get out your rubber boots if you want to argue about West Coast American beers versus East Coast, because you’ll be hip deep in excrement.

I wouldn’t want to see those lost. But consider that I live in New Mexico. A local brewer used to make (it is no longer brewed) a beer classified Kölsch for competition purposes (once won gold at the Great American Beer Festival). It wasn’t, but then the brewer didn’t call it that. One thing I liked is that it had a rough hop edge because our water is relatively high in carbonates. In other words, the beer was local.

So should I not drink this beer because it was inspired by a Kölsch? Once a region has claimed a “style” does that mean nobody can brew a beer like that elsewhere?

That’s when I realized I was getting windy. I’ll aim for brevity from here on so you may have to connect a few dots.

Local is good first simply because it is local. When you move to a new place you know the best way to “inoculate” yourself against local allergies? Consume the local honey. Those bees acclimate you to everything in the region. When I drink local beer I’m not only tasting local water but taking a good deep breath of local air.

Local is good because jobs stay here. Local is good because local is green – shipping water (the predominant ingredient in beer) is expensive and glass (the next largest part of the weight package) also ain’t cheap to pack off to distant locations.

The context of local brewing has changed. Breweries here in New Mexico don’t have locally grown barley and hops or whatever made brewing regions unique when styles were being established, but we still have beers with local character.

And if you read Pattinson’s blog you’ll appreciate that beer styles (I almost hesitate to use the word) evolve. They are not frozen in time.

Our local brewers shouldn’t be either. Gone are the days that we believed a brewer could master only two or three different recipes (a half dozen at the most).

I don’t want to see regional differences disappear. In other words, Globalization=Bad.

And I’m not suggesting that everybody follow the “American model.” However, if a local brewer finds inspiration in Cologne and brews a good “Kölsch” I think we are ahead.

That’s how “Think globally, drink locally” has helped define the American beer cultural.

And it sure as heck isn’t dull.

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One more tribute to the man who changed beer

Alastair HookAnother beautifully written tribute to Michael Jackson, worth your time while you make plans to attend the National Toast in his honor on Sunday.

Alastair Hook, brewmaster at Meantime Brewing in Greenwich, used Jackson’s writing to plot out a tour of Europe more than 20 years ago that set him on the course to becoming a brewer: “It showed me European history through a beer glass, and woke within me a desire to create great beer for a British populace that was being sold short by the keg revolution and ersatz brewed-under-licence fizz.”

Because the Meantime site uses frames you’ll need to navigate to what he posted the day after the Beer Hunter died. From the front page click on News and then the top story in the box. It begins:

“Michael Jackson died yesterday and for me the greatest sadness of this loss is that despite him achieving all he wanted to achieve in the United States his legacy to the British brewing industry will remain questioned, and his passing will not generate the emotional earthquakes that it will in the United States. This is a tragedy, for it is the people of his homeland that owe a huge debt to Michael for is unwavering and selfless pursuit of the celebration of beer.

“For me he was the great inspiration, he turned base metal in to gold with his writing. Not only was it full of articulate observation of the character of beer itself but it wove in to its nature the history of the peoples and society that created it. He brought beer alive by showing to us all that what was present in a glass was more than just a liquid, it was a story, a triumph and would always provide a moment to savour, to uplift and to foster fun and reverence.

“His honesty and forthright appraisal with what was wrong in the British brewing fraternity was too much for many, and shunned by his own homeland he was equally emphatically celebrated as a hero in the New World. In the US he was the first object of attention for the ‘Beer Groupie’! To a large extent what he achieved in the US – bastion of the bland circa 1980, the most creative brewing fraternity in the world now – will indirectly help shake his homeland into the creative vein he always wanted to see. American micro-brewing has spawned a new generation of young brewers in the UK who refuse to accept blandness and mediocrity, and it is these people who owe the greatest debt to The Beer Hunter.”

Please read the rest.

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Peroxide Punk and other beers I must try

BrewDog labelsNo I don’t suddenly covet the beers of BrewDog because they are getting good marks at Rate Beer and are building a cult following in Japan.

However, you might worry that I’ve fallen under the spell of off-beat marketing wizardry given that less than two weeks ago I confessed I want to try the beers of Voodoo Brewery just because I like the brewer’s attitude. And now I’m quoting more brewers I’ve never met and whose beer I’ve never tasted, and this time they are from Scotland.

Thanks to a post from Stonch about Hardcore IPA, the first “Double IPA” in Britain I spent a fair amount of time this morning mucking around the BrewDog website.

The index page alone had me looking up Fraserburgh, Scotland, on the map:

We do not merely aspire to the proclaimed heady heights of conformity through neutrality and blandness.

Quality ingredients are expensive, time consuming hand brewing methods are expensive, all the extra care required because we use no additives or preservatives is expensive.

We don’t care!

Our goal is not to keep costs down, cut corners and then fool consumers into thinking this bland nonsense is actually good beer through an advertisement onslaught.

Our goal is to make truly amazing fresh, natural beers and not to compromise on any level.

We’ve been listening to that message from American small-batch brewers for more than 20 years (although I never tire of hearing it). It’s less often they say things, like: “It’s all about moderation. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time to time have excess.”

As Stonch points out, the UK is not devoid of creative brewing. For instance, Sean Franklin at Rooster’s Brewery in Yorkshire has been concocting quite nice experimental beers since opening the brewery in 1993. But many of the new wave of micro breweries are really micro, often selling only to one pub.

James Watt and Martin Dickie, on the other hand, opened with a 10-barrel system at BrewDog (Rooster’s has an eight-barrel). And they distribute their beer in bottles.

In case you wondered, Peroxide Punk (in the headline) took that name because it is a fair color and described this way by the brewery:

“A trashy blonde concession for those who mouthed the words (in a deliberate manner) on the Punk IPA label, then spat the beer out. For you crazy rock n roll peeps who thought the extra 2% would make you loose the Harry Plotter entirely. Dry-Hopped . . . to give the beer a real aromatic zesty aroma and a depth of flavour and body which bellies its ABV. Fluorescent in colour, this beer might even make you glow in the dark. Zeitgeist in a bottle.”

I’m a sucker for zeitgeist in a bottle.

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