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Archive | December, 2009

Say so long to 2009 with a few beery links

See you in 2010, but since you stopped by I’ll leave you with a few beery links.

I had planned to riff a bit on “world classic” and “world class” beers, but that’s going to have to wait until a few days into the New Year. I decided to give my brain an early Christmas present: no thinking today (don’t say it, Alan). Then we’re traveling for a bit after Christmas. While I’ll give it a shot to have a post Jan. 1 as part of The Session regular blogging won’t resume until at least Jan. 4.

Happy holidays, don’t drink too much too often, and stay safe.

The links:

  • Given the success Stone Brewing exhibited in the past when it came to April Fool’s pranks didn’t you pause a moment when you saw the news (and video) about a possible brewery in Europe? This is the sort of thing business folks used to pursue quietly, but in this Facebook/Twitter/transparent world keeping secrets is next to impossible. It made more sense for Stone to shoot a video and tell the world.

    The reaction in the U.K.? Pete Brown loves the idea, but Woolpack Dave would rather support BrewDog (a partner with Stone in brewing collaborations). Check out the whole conversation.

  • Microsoft has banned an app that lets phone users “drink” a virtual beer. This is the same app that’s available for the iPhone in the App Store. Microsoft made the decision based on its self-imposed “morals-based” content policy.
  • Here’s how you introduce a “best” list: “Is it stupid to list the 15 best TV shows of the decade? Most definitely! Is it fun to list the best 15 TV shows of the decade? Oh, yes, a thousand times yes!” And, given my limited contact with television, it looks like a pretty decent list to me. Other than failing to mention “Breaking Bad.” (Thanks to Uncle Jack for making me aware of this.)

    Tomorrow’s classic beers

    In the course of six revisions after his first Pocket Guide to Beer Michael Jackson elevated (and sometimes later demoted) only 20 beers to “world classic” status. He didn’t use the term casually.

    As Alan fairly points out this was the opinion of but one man. One more qualified to comment than any, but just a important one who gave us an “exploration to follow.”

    That’s why I keep pointing to what he wrote in the introduction to Beer (Eyewitness Companions). (He wrote the introduction a few months before he died in 2007; the book came out a few months after his death.)


    “Today, neither European brewers nor most drinkers on either side of the Atlantic have yet grasped that tomorrow’s most exciting styles of beers will be American in conception.”


    “The nation that makes the world’s lightest-tasting beers also produces the most assertive beers. Tomorrow’s classics will evolve from a new breed of American brewers that are categorized by their admirers as ‘Extreme Beers.’ These are the most intense-tasting beers every produced anywhere in the world. They include classic European-style stouts that are richer, toastier, and roastier than anything yet produced in Ireland; ales massively more bitterly appetizing than any in Britain; ‘wild’ beers more sharply, quenchingly sour than their Belgian counterparts; wheat beers so spicily phenolic as to make a Bavarian choke on his mid-morning weisswurst; and pilsners so aromatic as to tempt the Good Soldier Schweik — the eponymous hero of Jaroslave Hasek’s comic novel.

    “Sometimes the new US beers combine elements from more than one style, but with a view to achieving greater distinctiveness rather than to merge into blandness. The best example I ever experienced was the Smoked Porter of the Alaskan Brewing Company.”

    Quite obviously he was not done exploring beer or celebrating the new. He didn’t find appreciating both “extreme” and “traditional” beers a contradiction.

    You know, I think I’ll leave it at that rather than starting a conversation about what individual beers he would have given four stars.


    A short history of Jackson’s ‘world classics’

    Before we discuss Michael Jackson’s predictions about American beers and “tomorrow’s classics” how about a recap of how he rated “world classics” for 18 years? Andy’s pondering sent me flipping through seven editions of Jackson’s Pocket Guide to Beer.

    After considering the concept of “classics” maybe we need to return to the topic of “world class” and if the phrase is anything more than a marketing term. And maybe that discussion will have already gone where it’s going to go.

    In Jackson’s first pocket guide (1982) he awarded 42 beers 5 stars, writing “. . . no one can deny that a Premier Cru Bourdeaux is likely to have more complexity and distinction than a jug wine (Or, in the British phrase, “plonk”). A beer rated ***** is a world classic either because it has outstanding complexity and distinction or because it is the definitve example of the style, and no matter whether everyone is capable of appreciating it; some people probably don’t like first-growth Bordeaux, either.”

    In fact, he also gave 5 stars to all the beers from 12 traditional Lambic brewers in the Senne Valley because they were so unique. For purposes of this “study” I added a 43rd top-rated beer to that first list, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus — because it was the lone lambic to receive the highest rating in the second edition of the guide.

    He changed the rating system in 1986 for that second edition, assigning 4 stars at the most, still labeling such a beer “world classic.” In 1982 he awarded half stars — for instance, Worthington White Shield received ****½ — while in following years a beer might have been rated ***»****.

    You with me? From this point on we’ll refer to 4-star beers (giving 1982’s 5-star beers **** and everything else less). Although Jackson assigned six additional beers 4 stars in 1986 the list shrank to 32. In 1991 it included 33 beers, in 1994 35 beers, in 1996 35 beers, in 1997 35 beers and in 2000 only 32 beers.

    The guide wasn’t “all new” with each edition; Jackson’s goal was to change it about 25 percent each time, but even when what he wrote about a beer remained much the same the rating might change. The content also tended to reflect his travels, so that in 2000 he added considerably to the section on China and made many revisions within the pages about Germany.

    At the top end, he lowered the ratings for seven 4-star beers in 2000, meanwhile promoting Cantillon’s Bruocsella Grand Cru, Boon Mariage Parfait, Köstritzer Schwarzbier and Greene King Strong Suffolk.

    In the course of seven guides, 19 beers earned a top rating every time:

    Pilsner Urquell
    Jever Pilsner
    Zum Uerige Altbier
    Paulaner Salvator
    Schlenkerla Märzen
    Rodenbach Grand Cru
    Westmalle Tripel
    Chimay Blue
    Brakspear Bitter
    Courage Imperial Russian Stout
    Fuller’s ESB
    Marston’s Pedigree
    Thomas Hardy’s Ale
    Traquair House
    Guinness Extra Stout
    Anchor Steam
    Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

    The 2000 list included six American beers: Anchor Steam, Anchor Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Alaskan Smoked Porter and Celis White (on its last legs in Texas).

    As you can see Jackson reserved the term “world classic” for a few special beers, and ones that proved themselves over time. This was a much narrower list than in the The Great Beer Guide, published in 2000 and listing “500 Classic Brews.”

    A bit of semantics? Certainly. But worth remembering when, next, you consider the bold prediction he made in Beer: Eyewitness Companions, published after he died in 2007 and written not long before.


    What makes a brewery world class?

    This email arrived about the time the European Beer Star award winners were announced and various discussions about innovation broke out.

    At what point does a brewery become World Class? If you win a gold medal at the GABF does that make you a World Class Brewery? World Class Brewer (the dude or dudette)? Or brewer of “a” World Class Beer?

    My response was, well, flip.

    Can a brewpub be world class? Can beer brewed in Eden, NC, be world class? Is Orval (with just one beer) world class? Can you be world class if you brew for the working class? Is it like Michelen stars – lose a star and fall out of world class? Are there a set number of world class breweries? So if Caldera (note: Caldera had just cleaned up in the Beer Star awards) gets promoted somebody else gets demoted?

    Andy’s comment about Michael Jackson’s 1982 list of 5-star beers — “Given the evolution in beer and beer styles, as well as the explosion in American Craft Brewing creativity, I wonder how his list would be different if he were around to do it again.” — got me thinking about it again.

    So far I’ve managed to think of even more questions, but not to many answers.

    I welcome your suggestions.


    And still another beer book suggestion

    One more last beer gift suggestion, at least until I remember something else.

    You can download Beer Lover’s Britain for £5.99. Jeff Evans includes all the vital information you’d expect but also address the questions you really want answers to.

    Should there be a head on my pint? Is it in the right glass? Is it meant to taste like that? How much does a pint cost? How do I pay the bill? Can I join in the games? Am I allowed to drive after drinking? What can we eat? Can we bring the children in? Is smoking allowed? Can I expect table service? What time does the pub close? Can we stay at a pub? How do we get there?

    I also discovered you can download his Book of Beer Knowledge, one of ten really good beer books I already recommended.

    As long as I’m suggesting guide books (avoided in making the list above because of their specialized nature) I should mention Good Beer Guide Prague & the Czech Republic. There’s a chance we’ll make it back to the south of Germany and the Czech Republic sooner than later, so already committing this book and Trips! (South) to memory.

  • Congratulations to Gary Melenhorst and John Stephenson from Ontario’s Creemore Springs Brewery for winning the copy of the upcoming Brewing with Wheat I donated to Alan’s Good Beer Blog Yuletide Photo Contest. Clever that they won a book about wheat beer with a picture of a wheat beer truck. The book will be available at the end of February.
  • Stephen Beaumont has crowned a Beer Glass of the Year. No further comment.

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