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Headache ahead: Considering beer styles

Do you have a vested interest in whether a beer is a porter or a stout?

Do I?

Two words, but for me a two-part question.

* First, I drink beer. And I have an affection for imperial stouts. So if a beer is called “imperial porter” should I trifle with it?

You answered no? Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter won the gold medal in the imperial stout competition at the 2008 World Beer Cup. So much for style guidelines holding a beer back. Just to be sure it still suits me I had a dram of the barrel-aged version just this past weekend. Flat out great.

That doesn’t mean that if I walk into a brewpub pub and happen to be in a dark-and-roasty mood I won’t look at the chalkboard listing beers and wonder just what the brewer intended when he chose to brew those “styles.” My solution is simple. I ask for a sample of each. Something you can do in a brewpub, but can’t at the beer store when confronted by a six-pack you haven’t seen before.

* Second, I write about beer. It is hard for me to avoid the concept of style, as mindbending as the discussions may be. But do I need to weigh in on the topic every time a spirited discussion breaks out on beerblogland? It seems I do this time.

“Does beer style matter? Does it mean anything?” was the topic at the British Guild of Beer Writers’ annual seminar this week. I suggest starting with Mark Dredge’s summation and questions that popped into his head (that’s where I stole the line at the top from), then the comments that followed.

Lots of fun reading resulted from that gathering — Pete Brown, Parts I and II, and Velkly Al for starters. And serious questions from Adrian-Tierney Jones.

More to come, I suspect, but I’m leaving it to others. Instead I suggest tomorrow we climb into the wayback machine and read what somebody other than Micheal Jackson was writing about styles in 1977 (the same year Jackson first published his World Guide to Beer). That should be fun.

Meanwhile, to the question Mr. Pencil & Spoon posed: “Beer Style: Does is it Matter?” In I moment I will signal WordPress it is time to publish these words. Then I will head to what here in the southwest constitutes a beer cellar (a chest freezer with a temperature controller). I will retrieve a beer, not a style. OK, the style might be “strong.”

I think the answer to the question is, “Not tonight.”

48 Responses to Headache ahead: Considering beer styles

  1. Mike October 21, 2010 at 4:58 am #

    “For once, it is fair to blame the Americans for something. They may not have started it, but they have surely made things a whole lot worse… Classifying things may improve our understanding and appreciation in the short term, and undoubtedly makes imitation easier, but equally it can stifle originality.

    “The real reason that the folk who shaped the American brewing revival defined beer styles in the first place was to give prizes. Prizes generated publicity — the lifeblood of any revolution. The downside is that it feeds the ‘best beer in the world’ myth – a defining fixture in a dangerously simple and inaccurate understanding of life.

    “The Guide’s take on stylising is that it is a means of describing diversity and not much else.”

    The above was written by Tim Webb, member of CAMRA and author of a series of books on beers in the Low Countries.

    What Mark Dredge knows/understands about beer would hardly fill a half-pint glass. Tim Webb, Pete Brown, Martyn Cornell, Ron Pattinson, et al are the people who understand and know beer and they all generally agree on this issue.

  2. Darren October 21, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    I’m with you on being a fan of the imperial stout style, and the flying dog imperial porter but I’m not sure it can role with the stouts despite being an awesome beer. There needs to be some sense of style for the judging, as there is for judging things like dogs. You can have an awesome dog that is a total mix up of breeds, but he cant win the great dane category at crofts.

    I’m all for beer I like when drinking and brewing. Then its to hell with the BJPC, but the comps need some boundaries. Its there that I’ll say no to the flying dog taking out the imperial stout category with an imperial porter. Change the recipe and dial up the dial up the roasted malt and we’ll see where we sit.

    Cheers D

  3. Steve October 21, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    “I suggest tomorrow we climb into the wayback machine and read what somebody other than Micheal Jackson was writing about styles in 1977”

    Oh yeah, peaked interest now!

    Mike — blame Americans? See the reference to Michael Jackson above… then again, I have no idea who Stan refers to in his second reference, Fred Eckhardt? Charlie Papazian? Augie Bush?

  4. Ron Pattinson October 21, 2010 at 6:59 am #

    “There needs to be some sense of style for the judging, as there is for judging things like dogs.”

    I’ve two problems with this statement:

    1. Why is judging beers so bloody important?
    2. Beer competitions have been held for more than 100 years without minutely-defined styles. I’ve even judged a couple of such competitions myself.

  5. Stan Hieronymus October 21, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    1. Why is judging beers so bloody important?

    It’s not.

    No need to have this discussion here. Great comments in Pete Brown land, although the white type on a black background may leave you as blurry-eyed as the conversation. Not sure if I’d suggest reading it in the morning or later with beer.

  6. Joe Stange October 21, 2010 at 8:46 am #

    This is from the BJCP FAQs:

    “Without beer styles, competitions would be nearly impossible to conduct. Judging would simply become a hedonistic event, where judges would simply pick beers according to their preference. The outcome would be totally arbitrary and would depend on the background and preferences of those who judge their beers. This is not a desirable situation.”

    I would only change the first and last sentences. “Competitions would be much easier to conduct,” and “This IS a desirable situation.”

    Imagine a world where beers are judged on how much pleasure they bring.

  7. Stan Hieronymus October 21, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    Joe – I think both sorts of competitions can exist.

    Without some sort of classifications – which could be based on historic styles – I’m not sure how judges at a competition such as Dixie Cup (with more than 900 entries) would have a fighting chance.

    As to hedonistic judging, isn’t that how we end up with 17 of the 25 “best” beers in the world (I made that number up) checking in at 9%-plus abv?

  8. Joe Stange October 21, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    “As to hedonistic judging, isn’t that how we end up with 17 of the 25 “best” beers in the world (I made that number up) checking in at 9%-plus abv?”

    Forgot to add that I would implement a strict training regimen for judges to indoctrinate them with the personal preferences of Lew Bryson.

  9. Mike October 21, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    “Judging beers” is the basic flaw with the entire concept. My taste in beer is not yours. Just as my taste in music, film, books, women, shoes, food, paintings, cities, etc. is not yours.

    Is beer X or beer Y closer to style? That’s a joke, right? There is only one question that needs to be asked about a beer and that question is: do I like it? No, not you, Stan, not you, Joe, not you, Steve or Ron or Darren. It’s not selfish – it’s my mouth and my taste. That’s all.

    Steve- please note the quote marks in my post. Those are not my words, though I generally agree with him. And, apparently you didn’t read past the first sentence, namely: “They may not have started it, but they have surely made things a whole lot worse.”

  10. Alan October 21, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Dear me. Judge not lest ye be judged? Is that where we are? I had no idea that there were so many voices of individualism that I now feel that it might be worth standing up for judging now just so I can retain my contrarian vision. Once my bloggy system is patched up I may well write a unified theory but I would point out this – for some there must be great pleasure in judging. As an exercise in precision in experience, I see no reason to condemn artful drinking. It is merely dissection; reporting upon observations.

    My only real issue I think is that it would be good to include other evaluators and perhaps even let the judges create approaches to evaluation as a freeing up of the process. For me, as you would expect, relative value for the degree of coherent and pleasurable complexity is a far better measuring stick than silos of style. Robin Garr, an early web wine appreciator called it “QPR” – quality price ratio. Never understood why value is such an openly discussed principle with wine compared to beer.

    • Stan Hieronymus October 21, 2010 at 10:27 am #

      “I now feel that it might be worth standing up for judging now just so I can retain my contrarian vision.”

      Alan – This has all been a masterful plan, contrived by the Guild of Beer Writers at the outset but then joined by all us bloggers, to keep your contrarian head spinning.

  11. Bill October 21, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    As a drinker, styles are useful to me, but I recognize it’s because I’ve associated certain things/experiences/tastes with certain styles over 25 years of drinking. So I expect different things from a stout and a porter. And whatever the history of the terms might be, within the last 25 years, beers I’ve enjoyed (or not, occasionally!) under those names have provided different enough experiences that, were I to want a stout and purchase something labelled a stout but get the taste/drinking experience of what I’ve come to expect from a porter, there might be some disappointment even if the beer is really good. And mentally, I’d keep that beer in mind for when I would want a porter in the future.

    Now, my understandings of what a particular style is keep evolving, especially given the thousands of brews available here in the US, but they’re still there. So I do think styles are important, even as we would each come to understand them differently. You need something more than “do I like it?” I like many many beers, but I’m usually in the mood for a certain range of drinking experience. If I want to try something new that brings me something I associate with style X, it’s good to have choices marked as “style X.”

  12. Darren October 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Why is judging so bloody important? Well straight off its not. Putting beers in competitions to be judged is like sport, golf or football. Try playing a sport with no rules (even cage fighting has some rules), the style guidelines are the rules.

    They styles are not important other than to let beers compete on a fair and even playing field. I like sport and I like beer so therefore I’m a fan of the styles where they add value. I also like drinking and brewing beers that are not to style, Belgian IPA’s, Imperial Milds, go for it. These are for drinking not for sport.

    The styles also give a reference points or common language to let people share knowledge and experiences on beers – “have you had …… its like a Kolsh….etc.”

    Don’t hate the styles or judging but all the same don’t live or die by them.

    Cheers D

  13. first stater October 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    Cooking Lager has 4 styles, cheap good beer, expensive good beer, cheap bad beer and expensive bad beer. That man is a genius.

  14. Ron Pattinson October 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    “They styles are not important other than to let beers compete on a fair and even playing field.”

    So totally useless for consumers.

    As I’ve already said, this isn’t even true. There are plenty of competitions that have been going for decades with only very loose groupings.

  15. Mike October 22, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    Darren, I think your analogy is a bit off. Brewing competition is not like football or golf – one is a team sport and the other includes a goal that does not require judging. Brewing competition seems to me a bit more like the Academy Awards.

    Secondly, Bob Dylan once wrote the line: “you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (that’s from memory). Likewise, beer competitions could be done on the basis of what tastes best. This would discourage imitation and encourage originality. Of course, we would not need the BJCP because the judging could be done by everyone and anyone.

    Beer competition, as promoted by the BJCP, seems to me fairly unique. The BJCP has unilaterally named itself the emperor of beer competition – they make the rules and they supply the judges. The entire system seems self-promulgating.

    I wonder what the American brewing scene would be like if there were no BJCP (and their children: Hate Beer and Beer Assault – credit to Sid Boggle)? Perhaps small breweries would have more than 5 percent of the market.

  16. Steve October 22, 2010 at 6:21 am #

    “And, apparently you didn’t read past the first sentence, namely: ‘They may not have started it, but they have surely made things a whole lot worse.'”

    Mike, I did read the whole post, thus my second sentence that includes the disclaimer, “…then again…”

    My point being is that pointing fingers is wrong, there are catalogers the world over. “Making things worse” is also subjective — define “worse” in this instance and I’m sure you’ll have a different opinion than me.

    I like the categories because it allows me some insight into variation and comparison — as well as contrast. I’m not a beer drinker who has to stick to one style to be happy, either — I tend to enjoy most any.

  17. Darren October 22, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    Mike firstly Bob Dylan has a terrible voice, you really want to listen to him? and forget the exact game, entering beers in a comp is a game, games need rules.

    Also I am Australian and hence have little regard for America and your brewing scene. I do however think that to attribute any blame to the BJCP for the desire for a large majority of the American public (and Australian public for that matter) to support big bland beer is a sad reflection on yourself.

    The info and knowledge sharing that comes from things like the BJPC offers an end from the dominance of the big beer syndrome. Still America isnt all that open to hearing a voice other than its own so Mike i’ll leave you to Bob Dylan and I’ll stick to people who can sing (and know beer)

    Cheers D

  18. Stan Hieronymus October 22, 2010 at 6:25 am #

    I’m afraid I might have set this conversation off in the wrong direction by using the story about imperial porter. It seems to me that the Guild discussion was meant to be about the value of styles to consumers, and perhaps just how many we need.

  19. Darren October 22, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    na Stan you just pointed out that not every beer fits the BJPC slots. The beers that miss the slots are no less good beers, but they may struggle to find a home in the beer judging world. Beer is just beer after all, entering comps is playing games. I would never want the judging world to stop good beers but still like the idea of a common language for talking beer though.

    PS – Bob Dylan really is crap

  20. Mike October 22, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    Darren, I do not disagree with you about Bob Dylan’s singing, but, you will note, I quoted him as a songwriter, not singer. (Personally, I much preferred Phil Ochs, but that is a different discussion.)

    I am Dutch, not American, so it’s not “my scene.” I also do not understand your point that by opposing the BJCP I am supporting bland beer. I do not see the connection.

    And finally, I agree completely with you that “America isnt all that open to hearing a voice other than its own.”

  21. Mike October 22, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    Steve, first of all, if you find beer styles useful, that’s fine. Personally, I think they are a primarily a game for teen-aged troublemakers, but no one says we all have to have the same opinions.

    If you don’t like what Tim Webb wrote, I suggest you contact him instead of addressing me.

    I live in the Netherlands and both here, as well as our two neighbours, Belgium and Germany, there is little to no discussion of style. Somehow, those poor Belgians and Germans have been drinking beer for many centuries without the guidance of styles. Oddly, no one here seems to miss them.

    Different strokes and all that.

  22. Steve October 22, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    “Different strokes and all that.”

    Definitely.

    But to the Dutch, Belgians, and Germans drinking without focus on style, then why have they created so many to choose from?

    As to the comment about hearing voices, don’t be so fast to paint with such a broad brush.

  23. Adrian Avgerinos October 22, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    I brew my own beer but I don’t enter it in competitions despite the fact that I’m a member of a very well established homebrew club here in San Diego that’s quite active in the BJCP events. It’s just not my thing.

    That said, I understand the usefulness of style guidelines and rule sets for the explicit purposes of judging beer in a private competition. I get that. That’s fine.

    My beef is with the attitude of many American homebrewers, some pro brewers, and way too many beer drinking enthusiasts. It seems that according to them beer can either be defined as:

    1) “To Style” (as defined by the BJCP or BeerAdvocate)
    2) “Not to style, but that’s cool too since you can just make what you think is tasty.”

    Is there no middle ground? If I think that the BJCP’s fanciful definition of Scottish Ale is utter crap and I brew a beer I think more closely resembles the Ales brewed Scotland over the last 100 years, why does that notion automatically trivialize my efforts and lump me in with the weirdoes? It’s as if my pre-war Porter gets lumped in with all the retarded homebrew abominations like marshmallow banana stout, peanut butter and jelly brown ale, chipotle lime doppelbock, and bacon maple bourbon chocolate coconut imperial oak aged Baltic coffee breakfast porter (triple dry hops!).

    Because I brew real beer and not beer intended for a competition, my brews get lumped in with the jump-the-shark beer? Lame.

  24. Barm October 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    It’s interesting people mention Bob Dylan. Lots of extremely influential rock musicians can’t actually sing very well: Lou Reed, David Bowie, Mark E. Smith. But I’d rather listen to them than someone like, say, Michael Bolton, who might have a technically excellent voice but chooses to sing dreadful schmaltzy overproduced material. In the same way, I prefer microbrews over the consistent but bland products of InBev’s superb quality control and state-of-the-art technology.

  25. Darren October 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    who would have thought a beer blog would end up with Bob Dylan or Michael Bolton being posed as a question?

  26. Stan Hieronymus October 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    Dylan has made his way into this blog before, but I would have bet a beer that Michael Bolton never would. And preferred it stayed that way. Guess that’s what I get for opening the door marked “styles.”

  27. Mike October 23, 2010 at 2:17 am #

    Steve,
    “But to the Dutch, Belgians, and Germans drinking without focus on style, then why have they created so many to choose from?”

    This is merely proof that beer styles promote imitation, while an absence of styles promotes originality. In the US, there are +/- millions of brewers making IPA and stout. Beligan and German brewers make whatever they (and their customers) want with no thought to what it is called. In fact, the Germans already have a handy beer naming system (hell and dunkel – light and dark) – it works for almost every beer.

    And what has the style obsession done for the US brewing industry? Less than 5 percent of the US beer market, children (of all ages) calling each other names because someone can’t tell the difference between a stout and porter, a geek subculture that sees beer as something between molecular physics and a religious icon and, well, a kind of laughing stock (see the comments of Adrian Avgerinos above).

    “As to the comment about hearing voices, don’t be so fast to paint with such a broad brush.”

    You should look at the US from the other side of the wall sometime. Believe me, this is true. For example, I post sometimes on a US-based travel site when people ask about my country. Often, I get no reaction. But, if an American posts the same or similar information later, the person who asked the original question responds to him or her.

  28. Matt October 23, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    Unfortunately small brewers in Belgium have little more market share than their American counterparts — perhaps even less. For 2007, “standard and specialty lager” accounted for 89% of Belgian sales. The remaining 11% includes mega-ales (Bass, etc)), mega-specialties (Leffe, Grimbergen, etc), and superstrength lagers (Gordon’s Finest Gold, Jupiler Tauro, etc), and even non-alcoholic beers. Thus, quality beers from small producers have much less than 11% of the market.

    Regarding to the popularity of “quality” beer in major brewing countries, it’s not clear to me whether America is the exception, or Germany is. It would be interesting if someone had the numbers on England, Germany, etc.

  29. Mike October 24, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    Matt, I’ve never seen figures like that for Belgium. Would you mind telling us the source? Thanks.

  30. Steve October 24, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    “In fact, the Germans already have a handy beer naming system (hell and dunkel – light and dark) – it works for almost every beer.”

    Until you add the “type” of beer, of course.

    “You should look at the US from the other side of the wall sometime.

    Fair advice to give and take.

    Again, your examples (both of geekdom and web-posters) are small percentages of large populations. My friends and I have traveled Europe and always look to locals for advice and knowledge — it’s only logical.

    My love of beer style knowledge has everything to do with the passion of learning, not the need to be anal or scientifically correct — it’s all enjoyment.

    Stereotyping is easy, looking deeper into a culture isn’t — for “both sides of the wall.”

  31. Mike October 25, 2010 at 1:48 am #

    Steve,

    “In fact, the Germans already have a handy beer naming system (hell and dunkel – light and dark) – it works for almost every beer.”

    Until you add the “type” of beer, of course.

    That is not entirely true. Of breweries that make mutiple sorts of beer, it is true. However, in many small German breweries that make only a couple of beers, then you must add only the name of the town or the brewery.

    Your (valid) point “Stereotyping is easy, looking deeper into a culture isn’t — for “both sides of the wall.” applies to you as well, of course.

    Your other point (“My love of beer style knowledge has everything to do with the passion of learning, not the need to be anal or scientifically correct — it’s all enjoyment.”) is missing a qualifier: if beer styles were significant/important.

    There are many millions of people all over the world (including the US) who do not share your interest in beer style and consider it irrelevant. Those people also have a right to their opinion.

  32. Steve October 25, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    “Your (valid) point “Stereotyping is easy, looking deeper into a culture isn’t — for “both sides of the wall.” applies to you as well, of course.”

    Never discounted that at all in any of my posts.

    I I didn’t leave off a qualifier in my opinion/passion.

  33. Mike October 25, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    While we’re waiting for Matt to reply with his source for those amazing statistics, I have some “amazing” information about the American “craft” brewers.

    First, the Brewers Association describes a “craft” brewer: “Small: Annual production of beer less than 2 million barrels.” On their list of craft breweries is “Boston Beer Company” (dba Samuel Adams). In 2009, Boston produced 2,020,000 barrels of beer. This does not meet the qualification of the BA.

    The BA also wrote: “Small brewers are defined as those who qualify for the Tax and Trade Bureau’s small brewers excise tax differential by producing less than 2 million barrels annually.” In Boston Beer’s annual report they wrote: “Prior to 2009, the Company was able to take advantage of the reduced tax on the first 60,000 barrels of its malt beverages produced; however, in 2009 the Company’s total production of malt beverages under its licenses exceeded 2.0 million barrels and it was not able to take advantage of this reduced tax benefit.”

    I assume Boston was aware of this no later than the first quarter of 2010. Presumably (since the information is freely available on Boston Beer’s website), the BA was also aware of this, but said and did nothing. As Boston is the biggest brewery in the BA “craft” group, almost 25 percent of the total “craft” beer claimed by the BA is invalid.

    Secondly, the Brewers Association claims in 2009 there were 1552 “total ‘craft’ breweries” in the US. I found a list for that year (on the BA site) which includes the note “including contract craft brewing companies.” So, presumably, the list has all the 1552 breweries plus a small number of the contract brewers. The list has 1632 companies in total, so that seems about right.

    However, in looking at the list, I noticed that most breweries are listed multiple times. For example, Gordon Biersch is listed 25 times, Granite City Food is listed 26 times and Rock Bottom Brewery is listed 35 times! Many of the other breweries have between 2-5 listings.

    This seems, at the very least, misleading. I had assumed, from what the BA wrote, that the 1552 “breweries” were actually brewing companies. They are not.

  34. Stan Hieronymus October 25, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Mike,

    I’m not sure which has been talked to death more – the value of styles (and if there are too many) or what “craft” beer might be.

    Curiously, American consumers (those who drink the beer) don’t care all that much about either. Only if it provides some direction. Two stores new my house, under different ownership, promote “microbrews.” Many, probably most, of those are from breweries selling more than 15,000 barrels (the official definition).

  35. Mike October 25, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    Stan, I don’t think it is curious at all. Most consumers are interested in quality and price (of anything, not just beer).

    I just find it shameful that marketing people have no integrity and will do whatever they can to promote their product. And that they are so stupid they think the consumer won’t notice.

  36. Steve October 25, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    “However, in looking at the list, I noticed that most breweries are listed multiple times. For example, Gordon Biersch is listed 25 times, Granite City Food is listed 26 times and Rock Bottom Brewery is listed 35 times!”

    Gordon Biersch is a brew-pub chain that expanded into opening a Micro Brewery as well. Rock Bottom is also a brew-pub chain. Both brew-pubs have numerous (25 and 35, it appears) on-site brewing pubs across the country.

    Can’t comment on Granite City.

  37. Matt October 26, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    Those “amazing” statistics are reported here: http://internationalbusiness.wikia.com/wiki/Belgium's_Beer_Market_Overview

    The primary source is here (but costs $250): http://www.datamonitor.com/store/Browse/?Ntt=belgium%20beer

    I live in Belgium, and from what I see every day there is nothing amazing about this. I have also lived in the United States, where I have seen many other amazing facts that are not consistent with your worldview.

  38. Mike October 26, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    Steve, I am a beer consumer and not in the industry. If I were speaking to Heineken and asked how many breweries they had, I would expect them to list every facility. If, however, I asked a trade association how many breweries they had in their country, I would expect them not to list every facility, but to list every brewing company. As, for example, the Belgian Brewers association does here: http://bit.ly/aHXFPg

    (Although I don’t expect you read Dutch, the label used is “Breweries,” not brewing companies or any variation of that.)

    The German brewers organisation also calls them breweries (http://bit.ly/aLIomn), but they do not list them, only give numbers, so it is not immediately clear how they count.

    I recognise that there is a difference between “brewery” and “brewing company.” However, when speaking in a national or international context, I think the expectation is that “brewery” is just shorthand for “brewing company,” and not for “brewing facility.”

    It is for that reason that I consider the “count” by BA misleading at best.

  39. Stan Hieronymus October 26, 2010 at 6:14 am #

    Mike and Matt – Both your posts (the recent ones) were flagged by something in various software I use (mostly to ward off 800 spam comments a day).

    Some of it would be tone. The use of the word “amazing” (started by Mike) appears to be part of it.

    When in doubt please error on the side of civility.

    Also, no matter my efforts to turn this to the initial discussion – Do styles matter? – you seem to be resisting ;>)

  40. Stan Hieronymus October 26, 2010 at 6:19 am #

    Mike – I’ve written about the use of brewery vs. brewing company before. I prefer the former, in part because of US history. I mostly would like to see consistency. To accent the growth of American beers, writers often use the low of 42 brewing companies (when there were 80 brewing facilities), then compare that to the number of breweries today.

    Additionally, beer from Rock Bottom in Chicago (just as the World Beer Cup judges who visited Pete Crowley’s cellar April) is much different than from Rock Bottom in Denver.

  41. Mike October 26, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    Stan,

    Do styles matter? In all the years I’ve been drinking beer (about 40), I’ve never needed nor known them, but have nevertheless enjoyed beer as much as is humanly possible. Does that answer your question?

    On brewing facility vs. brewing company: if you’re in the industry, I can see the interest in brewing facility, though brewing company would be important as well. As I wrote about the corruption of the BA over Sam Adams, I see the use of brewing facility in the context of “how many breweries are there” as further evidence of corruption. Although I didn’t mention it, their use of “craft” brewer as a blanket description of every single small brewer is also corrupt – or to put that in a more positive expression: a marketing ploy.

    To Matt: Oh, my. Only using American sources. I’m not surprised now. Why not use the Belgian brewers association? They are, after all, local. And they don’t charge anything for their statistics.

    According to the book “In Het Spoor van de Trappisten”, the consumption of pils (of any brand) in Belgium was 77.24 percent in 1985. This had fallen to 71,12 percent by 1992. During that same period, Trappist share went from 1,84 to 2,19 percent. The source for this information was the “Confederatie der Brouwerijen van België.”

    Statistics from Belgian Brewers (the new name of the Confederatie) for the past five years show that pils has gone from 52 percent (in 2005) to 36,5 percent now. These figures are from a survey commissioned by the association. Although I haven’t seen any statistics for the years between 1992 and 2005, the numbers seem to be more or less on-track. Trappist, incidentally, was at 5 percent in 2005 and 9 percent today.

    I belong to Zythos and volunteer as a server at the Essen Winter/Christmas beer festival every December. From what is ordered by Belgians at the festival, the numbers I have given seem pretty reasonable.

    You should also recognise that InBev is, especially now, far, far more active outside Belgium than domestically. Heineken, the other huge multinational in Belgium, does not produce pils there and the one brewery they bought several years ago produces primarily abbey ales. Several Belgians I know think the beers have actually been improved since Heineken took over.

    Furthermore, since the BA is including Sam Adams in their “craft” beer statistics although Sam Adams fails to meet the BA’s own requirements, the “craft” beer output is actually about 3 percent of the US market – significantly lower than even the Trappist share in Belgium.

    And finally: if the beer situation in Belgium were as bad as you originally wrote, why would American beer geeks constantly come over here and say how wonderful the beer is?

  42. Matt October 27, 2010 at 2:26 am #

    Mike, in 5 minutes on the internet you can find total Trappist production and the size of the Belgian market. (You can even filter out information from countries you don’t approve of.) You will see that your survey numbers are incorrect. You will find the same for pils.

    I never said the beer situation is bad in Belgium. Great beer abounds.

    As a treat for anyone still reading, here is the official video for the Belgian superhit “Alors on danse”: http://www.stromae.org/?page_id=10&lang=fr
    It’s relevant in many ways–for instance, Americans are already consuming a bastardized version spiced with Kanye West!

  43. Mike October 27, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    Matt, it is pretty clear that you are American and only speak English. So, if you are searching the Internet in English for Belgian beer information, you will find mostly flawed information. At the same time, if you searched information in Italian on Belgian beer you might also find flawed information. If you want to research something in a country, you would be wise to learn the language and search local sources. The post you made proves the truth of this statement.

    “I never said the beer situation is bad in Belgium.”
    You originally wrote: “Unfortunately small brewers in Belgium have little more market share than their American counterparts — perhaps even less. For 2007, “standard and specialty lager” accounted for 89% of Belgian sales. The remaining 11% includes mega-ales (Bass, etc)), mega-specialties (Leffe, Grimbergen, etc), and superstrength lagers (Gordon’s Finest Gold, Jupiler Tauro, etc), and even non-alcoholic beers. Thus, quality beers from small producers have much less than 11% of the market.”

    That doesn’t say the beer situation is bad in Belgium? If 89 percent is lager and the remaining 11 percent is mostly crap, how would you describe it?

    And at the risk of repeating myself: if the beer situation in Beligum were as bad as you describe, why are American beer geeks constantly coming here?

    • Stan Hieronymus October 27, 2010 at 9:37 am #

      I don’t want to seem rude, and I don’t mind reading this conversation, but if it is OK with you two, Mike and Matt, I will provide you with each other’s email addresses and you can communicate directly. Unless there is a surprising overwhelming vote from others who want to continue to read the comments.

      But to Mike’s last question:

      And at the risk of repeating myself: if the beer situation in Beligum were as bad as you describe, why are American beer geeks constantly coming here?

      You give the impression you don’t hold the beer situation in the US in high regard. But brewers, as well as Belgian and German and Italian and Japanese (and so on) “beer geeks,” visit the US and marvel at what they find. Why?

  44. Matt October 28, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    Hi Stan. I only wanted to point out that quality Belgian and American brewers have similar market share, rather than discuss the implications of that fact. So I’d just as soon not take you up on the email exchange.

    Mike, just look up the numbers. To me these market shares don’t mean the Belgian (or US) beer situation is bad, but I don’t care to discuss it.

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