Carnivale brettanomyces

Frank Boon talks about lambic at In de Wildeman

Some of the best pubs in Amsterdam joined forces this weekend to celebrate wild yeasts, the kind that gives a beer like lambic its particular flavour and characteristics. As part of that, In de Wildeman had Frank Boon give a presentation on the history of the lambic and related beers like gueuze and kriek. Which is fitting, because it was his brewery that was instrumental in saving these beers from extinction.

A short recap. Lambics are beers traditionally brewed in the Senne valley near Brussels, using various wild yeasts of the brettanomyces families (as well as others). It’s a sour beer, not very hoppy and cloudy. Gueuze is a mixture of young (one year old) and old (two-three years) lambics that undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, slightly sweeter than proper lambiek. Faro is lambic with added sugar, while kriek is lambic with sour cherries added, anything from 350 grammes a litre and upwards. Lambics were originally brewed as a regional beer, as a tax dodge even to escape French taxation on spirits, one of those styles of beer that seemed old fashioned in the twentieth century but which has become hip again as more and more craft brewers are looking to traditional beers like this for inspiration.

What I did this weekend

a boot full of Westvleteren beer

So this weekend was spent in the beautiful old town of Gent, with a couple of friends, as we went to pick up a supply of what’s supposedly the best beer in the world: Westvleteren 12. The results you can see above.

For those who are not beer geeks, Westvleteren is a socalled Trappist beer: beer brewed by Trappist monks within the monastry itself to pay for the upkeep of the monastry, with any remaining profit going to charitable works. What makes Westvleteren unique amongst the eight existing Trappist breweries is that it’s only sold at the abbey itself and brewed in limited quantities. To get it, you first need to make an appointment a couple of weeks in advance, then show up by car to pick up your two crates of 24 bottles. You can’t choose the beer they’re selling and you have to wait at least two months before you can buy them again.

All of which has imparted a certain mystique to the beer, as most beer geeks, especially those outside Europe, will have had little to no chance to drink it. Personally I quite like both the 12 and the 8 as I sampled them this weekend, sitting in the restaurant across the monastry, but I’m not sure how much its reputation reflects its own intrinsic qualities and how much it has to do with its rarity.

But getting it was a good excuse for a trip to a beautiful city and spent a couple of days boozing in its bars with friends who appreciate good beer. Not to mention that it also gave me the opportunity to visit an old friend for the first time and admire his beautiful, well kept house and perfect family…

How capitalism makes shitty beer worse

How capitalism can make even already shitty beer much, much worse:

One Friday night in January, Rinfret, who is now 52, stopped on the way home from work at his local liquor store in Monroe, N.J., and purchased a 12-pack of Beck’s. When he got home, he opened a bottle. “I was like, what the hell?” he recalls. “It tasted light. It tasted weak. Just, you know, night and day. Bubbly, real fizzy. To me, it wasn’t German beer. It tasted like a Budweiser with flavoring.”

He examined the label. It said the beer was no longer brewed in Bremen. He looked more closely at the fine print: “Product of the USA.” This was profoundly unsettling for a guy who had been a Beck’s drinker for more than half his life. He was also miffed to have paid the full import price for the 12-pack.


There was another reason for Brito to be reticent. He’s been running AB InBev’s business in the U.S. like a private equity investor. He has increased revenue and profit, but he has done so almost entirely by raising prices and cutting the cost of making the product. This has done wonders for AB InBev’s balance sheet. “If you look at what AB InBev has done since it took over Anheuser-Busch, it has made it enormously more profitable,” says Trevor Stirling, a beer industry analyst at Bernstein Research (AB), who detects more than a little xenophobia in the criticism of the company. “Is that un-American? Is it unconstitutional to increase the profitability of a business?”


What will Brito buy after this? There’s not much left. There is Pepsi, of course. Analysts speculate that it will acquire SABMiller (SAB), the world’s second-largest brewer. (AB InBev isn’t saying.) That would be something, adding beers like Coors Light and Foster’s to AB InBev’s lineup. It might be bittersweet for him. After one last carnival of cost-cutting, he’d have no more easy ways to juice his company’s stock. There would be nothing left for Brito to do but sell beer.

This is what real late stage, financier and stock market driven capitalism looks like. A company like AB InBev doesn’t exist to sell beer, not even to sell shitty beer, it exists as a tool for financial speculation. The real money lies in buying other companies, orchestrating mergers, conquering new markets through joint ventures and wholesale takeovers of local companies, splitting off unwanted parts and selling them to other companies doing the same, squeezing costs and increasing margins all to provide the seed sum for the next round of speculation.

It doesn’t really matter whether or not sales in the long term, or even the medium to short term sales of beer collapse for AB InBev as long as the margins are higher now, because the real money isn’t made there anyway. All the real money is on the financial speculative side, rather than the physical beer selling side. Get your money, let some other sucker worry about the future.

That’s also why the “let them drink craft beer” response to this sort of article (some examples seen here) misses the point entirely. This isn’t about shitty beer getting worse, it’s how high capitalism destroys everything in its quest for high profits now.

What my day has been like

Can best be described by my Twitter feed, from noon to eight o’clock in eighteen beers (and one unofficial one not tweeted) all drunk at the Bodegraven Beer Festival:



Emelisse Imperial Russian Stout

Emelisse is a brewery from my home province of Zeeland, which has been doing good things, one of which is their White Label Imperial Russian Stout range, where they age it in various types of whisky casks. The one I’m having right now was aged in casks of Caol Ila, which I never had, but which makes this taste quite good indeed. It got the smell and flavour of a proper whisky, but without the burn. A bit peaty, a bit woody with a nice stout aftertaste.