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A ‘complex’ beer issue

We love lambic in our house, yet I suspect I could spend the better part of the day asking others who live in our village about it before I found somebody who knew lambic meant beer.

But, goodness, all the attention it is getting these days could make you think it might be the Next Big Thing. We’re all in trouble if it is because we’re gonna run out of lambic real fast. For for instance, Cantillon – a subject in many of the discussions linked below – brews all of 800 barrels a year, about the same amount as the modest-sized brewpub up the hill from our house.

Following an article in the New York Times and a couple of blog posts by Eric Asimov you’ve got this:

A Lambic Primer at Ratebeer.com from Daniel Shelton of Shelton Brothers.

Followed by spirited discussions at Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. (Thanks to Jonathan Surratt for the links.)

These discussions wander off in esoteric directions and raise as many questions as they answer, but it’s ahrd to quit reading.

I’m drawn to two subjects. First, the role of tradition and if tradition allows room for innovation. Without innovation there would be no Double IPAs, so I’m voting for innovation and figuring there should be some wiggle room when talking about tradition.

Second, the sweetness versus complexity argument. Gee, does that sentence equate sweet and simple? No apologies.

I’m reminded a late night discussion a year or so ago with Yvan De Baets, a Belgian brewer in waiting who wrote the history of saison in Farmhouse Ales.

“One of the main goals of Belgian brewers should be to fight against the Coca-Cola flavors and those kind of gadget tastes,” he said. “We should be about cultural tastes, not (sweet) animal tastes.”

Amen (although I’d like to ask brewers of all nations to act as responsibly).

Out of boring beer ideas? Never

Here’s another take on why we’re seeing “bolder” (OK bolder might be a little strong) beers from the nation’s larger brewers.

“I think they’ve exhausted [the formula of] ‘How many types of beers can we make that are light and boring?’ ” said Walter Trifari, head of brewing operations for Fordham Brewing in Dover, in a story at Delaware Online.

Experience tells us they can still find more.

The Curmudgeon on swillocracy

Roger Baylor (aka the Potable Curmudgeon) has a much more entertaining take on Miller new ad campaign to position Miller Lite “as a smarter, more intelligent light beer” than previously presented here.

You too should wish you could craft lines such as:

Miller is preparing to tout its eternally insipid Lite with a campaign that exalts rules of living for men, and features a motley collection of hack celebrities swilling alcoholic soda pop straight from the bottle.

or

In fact, the megabrewer’s current television advertising spots are so abysmal that they make the ubiquitous fast food and automotive envy blurbs seem Shakespearean by comparison.

Find time to read all of “Corporate bored rooms of the swillocracy.”

The vocabulary of tasting

The tasting of lambics previously promised by the New York Times arrived today. Well worth your time.

Discussions about the article already include many more words than are in it. A few:

Burgundian Baggle Belt.

Rate Beer.

Beer Advocate.

At the Babble Belt there’s also side conversation about the use of wine vocabulary in a beer story, and the question pops ups, “Are we validated by them (wine snobs), or are we secure in what we know to be some of the greatest flavors and complexity of any beverage?”

That’s a fair question. The short answer would be, no, we shouldn’t feel validated just because a wine writer pens something nice about beer.

However, language is another matter. Those who try to describe beer in technical terms reserved for wine – and the Times article certainly does not – should be made fun of. But well used vocabulary is well used vocabulary.

Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson discussed this recently. Firestone Walker is located in Paso Robles, Calif., in the midst of scores of wineries. After the winery tasting rooms close at 5 p.m., wine tourists and winery workers often congregate at the brewery tasting room, which is open until 7 p.m.

“The wine world has an incredible vocabulary,” Brynildson said. “They seem to conjure up more of a food vocabulary.

“A lot of brewers pick it part by just talking about the technical characteristics.”

(I can certainly be guilty of that. The other day a brewer mentioned he was tasting a Belgian-brewed tripel. “Good beer,” I said, “but it could use more hops.” What I should have said is that I would like it better if it were a bit more dry, with a touch of bitterness to balance the beer’s sweetness.)

“I learn a lot when I drink beer with winemakers,” Brynildson said. “They talk about it and look at it from a different angle.”

That’s why even if you already know all you want to about lambics you should be sure to check out Lambics: Beers Gone Wild. You’ll still learn something.

Beer needs more beat reporters

Sometimes, actually many times, Lew Bryson should call his monthly post The Rant rather than The Buzz. In a piece titled Just Like Wine he tackles the bias food writers/editors’ have toward wine over beer and newspapers’ general “gee whiz” attitude toward beer.

This latter atttidue served breweries well enough a decade ago, when a new brewery was opening somewhere in the United States every few days. “Clark, go down and write a story about the new brewery in town. It’s a national trend. Take Jimmy along for a few photos.” Everybody got full blown feature, but many never saw another.

I’ve read plenty of these stories framed on the walls at brewpubs and brewery tasting rooms. They tend to be formulatic, based on information the reporter could acquire in a short time, a little bit about the brewing process, reciting the figures about how many breweries there once were in America, trying to capture a little of the romance of having a local brewery, etc.

There wasn’t time for the reporter to learn much about the intriguing subject of beer. Newspapers reserve “beats” – the stuff they cover regularly like the local school board, police, city hall, the college athletic teams – for topics of vital community interest.

When a newspaper does offer regular coverage of beer it’s usually because of a passionate reporter on another beat putting in much of his or her own time. For example, Travis Poling in San Antonio.

But to return to where Lew started, with a story in the Philadelphia Inqurier. Large newspapers, and certainly magazines, have the resources to permit reporters to “do the job right.” It’s a win-win situation for newspapers. The simple word beer makes people smile and want to read on, and there are thousands more interesting things to right about in America than there were 10 years ago.

Lew concludes:

Open challenge to Inquirer food editor Maureen Fitzgerald: run a beer piece that’s as in-depth and detailed as you would expect a wine piece to be. Give it your best shot. The New York Times’s Eric Asimov is doing it already, and Philly is twice the beer city NYC is. This is the biggest market for Belgian beers in the country, Victory and Dogfish Head are two of the hottest breweries in the country, and what do we hear about it in the Inquirer? We don’t hear diddley. Step up.

You might ask the same of your local newspaper.

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