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:

*Hiccup*

Smooth

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.

Drink Moar beer

Bayerischer Bahnhof Berliner Style Weisse

Right, more beer drinking. Proof positive that reading beer blogs is dangerous to your sobriety, I saw this Bayerischer Bahnhof Berliner Style Weisse in de Bierkoning and because I’d read this post at Shut Up about Barclay Perkins (for serious beer nerdery) I thought I’d give it a try. I know what weiss beer tastes like, but hadn’t heard of a Berliner style weiss beer yet. If this particular bottle is a good example of the style, it turns out to be much more sour than a normal weiss beer, tasting rather like a Kriek or Rodenbach, sour almost to the point of invoking your gag reflex, and with a very low alcohol percentage of 3 percent ABV. As you can see the colour is light golden, slightly darker than a lager, with a big head of foam, but that might’ve been caused by the transport from the shop to my home. On the whole I liked it, but it’s good it’s only a small (33 cl) bottle; more than that would be too much. It’s not the sort of beer you quaff on a hot sunny day.

Let’s drink some beer

It’s sunday, it’s sunny and I got some nice beers here which my parents were kind enough to bring along from Middelburg. First up is the Peelander Framboos beer:

The Peelander Framboos

Well, it certainly looks like raspberry beer and when opening the bottle, smells like it too. Tasting it, you get a strong raspberry flavour as well, with a slightly sour aftertaste and almost no hoppy bitterness. It’s slightly gassy and has some of the cloyingness that I associate with a good raspberry cordial. If you’d buy this expecting a beer similar to a kriek lambic, you’d be dissappointed. Alcohol wise it’s only 4% ABV, so a good drink for a hot summer’s day.

Prestige Premium Pils:

Prestige Premium Pils

Another Peelander product, this is a proper pilsner (5% ABV), nothing more, nothing less. It looks like a glass of Heineken, it smells like Heineken when you open it and it tastes like it too, with that slightly metallic aftertaste proper Heineken has. A perfectly alright pilsner, just a bit dull.

Beer, glorious beer

Meanwhile, last weekend, I was busy drinking beer and watching the rugby. I took some pictures and would like to share them with y’all. All the cool middle aged blokes with beards and hats kids are beerblogging, so why not me?

Coopers Extra Stout

How often do you get the chance to drink an Australian stout? Not often, so I had to try it. Coopers Extra Stout, brewed in South Australia is perfectly drinkable, tastes just like any other stout but lacks a bit of oomph once you get through the initial taste. Decent, not spectacular, would drink again if in the vicinity of where it was brewed.

Meantime Chocolate Porter

Gorgeous. I’ve had a few chocolate stouts, but not yet a chocolate porter (if there’s any real difference between a modern stout and a modern porter that is). Unlike many attempts, Meantime‘s porter keeps it’s chocolate undertones throughout the glass, doesn’t overwhelm the beer with the chocolate or vice versa and will be gotten again this weekend if I can.

Alba Scots Pine Ale

The first of four different ales I drunk this weekend, this was the best. A pine ale, which I hadn’t heard of before, but which tasted very nice. According to the label, Alba is a “triple style ale, brewed to a traditional Highland recipe using the sprigs of spruce and pine collected every spring”. How traditional this is, is anybody’s guess as IIRC, the Scottish Highlands haven’t had their pine and spruce coverings all that long. Doesn’t matter for the taste, which is nice and beery going in, with a decided aftertaste of swiss roll (!), which sounds strange but works, especially after the slightly more bitter chocolate porter. Will get more from this one as well.

T.E.A. - Traditional English Ale

Hogsback‘s T.E.A., Traditional English Ale, was recommended by one of the Bierkoning‘s staff, but was a disappointment. A run of the mill ale, which started alright but whose flavour didn’t last; might have been better in a smaller bottle.

Double Dragon Welsh ale

The Welsh Double Dragon ale, which is the same strength as the T.E.A., 4.2%, I got for the Ireland v Wales Six Nations match and it worked, in so far as the Welsh won. Better than the previous ale, still a bit on the bland side for me. Decent enough, but nothing special. Will drink in Wales, will likely not go out of my way for it.

Sunburst Golden Ale

Darkstar’sSunburst on the other hand, a golden ale from Sussex is brilliant. This tasted like an English ale should, not too bitter, but with a slightly nutty aftertaste and which is sustained throughout my drinking it. Would like to drink more of it.

Nut Brown Ale

Speaking of nutty, the last beer of the weekend (actually drunk on a Monday evening) was very nutty, but then this is Samuel Smith‘s nut brown ale, coming all the way from Yorkshire and brewed at what they claim is the oldest brewery there. Lovely taste, eminently drinkable, not very damaging. Will get more of this too.

So in total: seven beers sampled, two or three disappointments, four beers I will shortly get again.

Make booze boring for a safer Britain: support CAMRA

Social anthropologist Kate Fox thinks the British are wrong in blaming alcohol for antisocial behaviour and that it’s in fact a cultural thing:

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.

[...]

We become more outspoken, more physically demonstrative, more flirtatious, and, given enough provocation, some (young males in particular) become aggressive. Quite specifically, those who most strongly believe that alcohol causes aggression are the most likely to become aggressive when they think that they have consumed alcohol.

Which means that any attempt to limit booze related antisocial behaviour that focuses on alcohol as the evil spirit motivating this is counterproductive:

The drinkaware website, for example, warns young people that a mere three pints of beer (ie a perfectly normal evening out) “can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour”, that “you might start saying things you don’t mean and behaving out of character”, that alcohol is implicated in a high percentage of sexual offences and street crimes, and that the morning after “you may wonder what you did the night before”.

Instead, booze should be made into something a bit boring and stop being used as an excuse for people to be assholes:

I would like to see a complete change of focus, with all alcohol-education and awareness campaigns designed specifically to challenge these beliefs – to get across the message that a) alcohol does not cause disinhibition (aggressive, sexual or otherwise) and that b) even when you are drunk, you are in control of and have total responsibility for your actions and behaviour.

Alcohol education will have achieved its ultimate goal not when young people in this country are afraid of alcohol and avoid it because it is toxic and dangerous, but when they are frankly just a little bit bored by it, when they don’t need to be told not to binge-drink vodka shots, any more than they now need to be told not to swig down 15 double espressos in quick succession.

Which is why we should support CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, because how much more boring can booze be than if it’s drunk by middle aged, science fiction reading bearded folkies?