The Resistance to Change As Spring Arrives Edition of Your Thursday Beer News

Spring! Let’s get going right away with this tweet from Joe:

I am against fetishizing containers and dispense methods. I am for glasses of beer with sturdy foam in comfortable pub and home settings. Vote for me.

Interesting. In these last weeks of by 56th year, I am a friend to such an idea. I long for the first warm Saturday, a late morning beer after a few hours of digging in the garden. That’s the dream.  But is that reality? Is it healthy? I mean we all want to be healthy, right? But there is this great unhappiness that things are not what they seem which seems to be downright toxic and very 2019. Let’s see if I can put a thought or two together… well, let’s do that a little later. I am enjoying the first full day of spring too much to be too cranky right away.

There – that’s a better way to start. By the way, I really liked this photo posted by Boak and Bailey on Twitter. A cheery scene. By the way, I hear Jessica grabbed guzzled the pint – and then  was licking the mustard straight off the knife. Weird. Still, a lovely still life. Now, some actually interesting reading: the tale of brewer Wilhelm Kohlhoff, Peoples Brewing Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (1953-1968):

Kohlhoff is now 91 years old. He still recalls details of the brewing process he followed at Peoples. He also still has the original, handwritten notes he made when he first went to work in the brewhouse. They form a step-by-step, minute-by-minute outline of his brew day. The notes are written in a mix of German and English and give temperatures in degrees Réaumur, a unit of measure favored by many brewers of the period.

More actually interesting reading: the story of Italy’s relationship with Tennent’s Super Lager:*

It’s a scene that has been repeated for loads of folk from Glasgow who have made the trip over to Italy on their holidays in the last decade or so. A holiday that, while the stunning architecture, frescos, ice cream and pizzas might seem like the most obvious talking points when you return to work the next week, they all play second fiddle to the fact everyone drinks Rab C Nesbitt’s favourite swally, Tennents Super.

I love this. Nothing better than the happy confusion my Scots folk feel finding out they are actually loved for one thing or another.

Next, Jeff has proven himself a big fat liar** about the quality of his writing with this piece entitled “The Sound of History Rhyming.” Now, don’t get me wrong… I fundamentally disagree with his premise, and his timeline… as well as all his examples. It is all too clever and neat. But the writing is compelling. And I might be entirely wrong. Utterly. Consider this bit of a tid:

As products, there is very little in common between mass market lagers and milkshake IPAs. The intention brewers have in creating highly engineered beer in 2019 is flavor, not cost. That’s a huge difference. But what the two eras have in common is a comfort in harnessing science to achieve an end without considering tradition.

See, that is fundamentally wrong. We are given this fib that somehow folk after WW2 were suckers and the brewers took advantage of their naivety. Nothing is further from the truth. Throughout the 1900s was a rush for lighter and zestier flavoured beers that, yes, were cost effective but were also celebrations of the progressive confidence of the era. The Champagne of Beers was so labeled in 1905. In Canada, rice based beers show up in the 1920s. They were modern – even if we*** are no longer modern in that way. Milkshake IPAs are also speaking to today in their way, even if I do not speak the language. I am, as I keep telling you, an anachronism.

One more thing before, you know… here’s a fabulously boozetastic giffy graphy.

Now, the gloom. First, beer writing. Mr Beeson went right after something called in a way that raised two concerns for me right away:

The Beer Boutique is closing/going into administration. In six months writing for them they never paid me once on time, and by the sounds of it they’ve treated their employees & investors just as appallingly.

So, obviously not being paid is a rotten stinking thing. But I am not sure what “writing for them” means.  It is a store? Ms. K. shared the other day that she was “going back to the client-based blog posts” which indicates the way she earns a living, in addition to her rightly proudly proclamation that her work is found in @fermenthq and @ogbeermag. Similarly burdened by the slog, Jeff admittedI can see how my writing has degraded as a result of the constant hustle. It ain’t a good thing” in a follow up to an odd tweet by GBH – and by odd I mean MK’s boast that the reason he started “GBH was that beer media was boring (with a few exceptions) 15 years ago!” strikes me as odd given I have seldom seen so much claimed for (with a few exceptions) such exuberantly tepid writing, known mainly, yes, for moving the mid-point firmly from the comparative to the superlative while, oddly, keeping the foot on the clutch when the time for a conclusion comes around. It’s not that it’s wrong or ill-intentioned. It just… falters. Like somewhere else someone not including the obvious reason for changing a recipe of a brand of beer – the making of the more of the money. Is that why folks are turning away from reading paid beer writing?

Maybe. It’s all so uncertain. We are next inevitably drawn to “The Fraudulent Influencer” by Doug the CPA as posted at Beer Crunchers V.2.0:

Despite this NOT being a lucrative field, the prospect of being insta-famous and the money, free beer, glassware, tickets, and access that accompanies it has resulted in a vast sea of wannabe influencers. Like authentic versions, the imitators come in all shapes and sizes, each in search of a piece of the action. The time it takes build a strong following by generating meaningful content is too daunting. They look for shortcuts to appear more influential than reality, in hopes of getting noticed by breweries, or agencies working on their behalf. 

Is it the glam? Apparently the glam ain’t all that glam. It can’t be the glam. You may now want to listen to Andy Crouch on the Full Pint Podcast. You might want to tighten your seat belt before you do. And it’s not just the writers. Consider the brewers next. The Beer Nut offered this second hand observation:

Chatting to a brewer yesterday who said his access to international markets is determined by his Untappd scores. Terrifying.

What does that do? Does it lead to things like the “uncomplicated and easy drinking“or a pastry stout named Chocolate Lagoon? Fact jostles with fiction these days as far as what is on the shelf or in the tap. I’d be getting skitterish, too. Breweries are dropping like flies. It’s the era of “a miniaturized version of industrial lager’s vision” for heaven’s sake. And then what about the drinkers? Well, it seems that some older guys of The Men’s Shed sort can’t get a break when they gather in congregation and discuss, likely, boring brown beer. Jings.

These are tough times. But is it all bad? I don’t think so. I can get a better selection at better prices than ever. Value reigns even if sucker juice beer is getting its day in the sun. Ah, the sun. Spring is here. Hopefully folks will get out and find something other to do, other than to buy than beer. Other than to seek a living writing about beer. I don’t really depend on beer culture, me. I just want that corner with a bit of warmth in the sun, a ache in the shoulder, dirt under the nails and an excuse to open something nice on a Saturday soon. Before then, check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. It’s probably warmer wherever they are already. Spring!

*H/T to Cookie.
**See “…my writing has degraded…” below… well, now above seeing you are reading a footnote.
***Well, the “we” who are not the majority of beer drinker everywhere who prefer light industrial lagers still today.

6 thoughts on “The Resistance to Change As Spring Arrives Edition of Your Thursday Beer News”

  1. Well, first: 🙂. Thanks.

    It seems petty to offer a rebuttal after such a nice comment. However: American pale lagers. It’s interesting that in the same roundup you quote a brewery making beer from the pre-engineered era in American brewing, perfectly illustrating my point.

    This meticulously detailed account illustrates exactly how this beer was made: in a classically traditional way. (With a cereal cooker, it actually looks like a hybrid German/Belgian brewery, which amuses me.) Absent are any of the modern techniques or ingredients that were characterizing the more efficient breweries that were busy making this brewery obsolete. It’s true Americans made corn- or rice-based lagers going back to the 19th century. But *how* they made them changed radically beginning in the 1960s. Peoples brewery made them in a way a brewer from 1880 would have understood perfectly.

    But this isn’t how beer was being made down the road in Milwaukee. There they had adopted all the new gizmos and ingredients to make beer on a massive scale (as they did in St Louis). Ken Grossman gave a presentation to a homebrew club about a decade ago in Portland and mentioned that Sierra Nevada has tested Budweiser in their lab for decades and watched a steady erosion of the IBUs. This was since 1980! These beers kept their names, but they became highly engineered for efficiency and in the process became different beers.

    In the end, this is one of those metaphors-as-framework posts (a cycle of evolution) that works to the extent you buy in to the metaphor. I think you and I both share a similar orientation about these kinds of things—if the post works as a thought-provoker and amuses along the way, it’s fine if it’s only 59% accurate. The function isn’t a mathematical proof, but chin-stoking (or whatever it was your old ape was doing). I usually measure these things by whether they end up in roundups, so consider me satisfied.

  2. I think I will have to disagree but will do so based on evidence which I encourage you to kick at freely. First, technologically modern brewing is at least Edwardian if not late Victorian. In “Practical Notes on a Visit through American and Canadian Ale Breweries“, Journal of Institute of Brewing, 1907, Vol. 13, Issue 4, page 360 – 362 the author, Hyde, describes a trip to study the state of innovation:

    “Hyde shared a conversation with one unnamed brewery owner who admitted to him that the market was changing that they were not quite sure that their beer was meeting with the demand that they would like it to. The solution was something called Wittemann process being used in a New York brewery which promised time savings time, no cellaring and lighter beer. Hyde was no more impressed with that plan than the poor state of the beer.”

    In 1907, a brewery in Port Hope Ontario was said to be “comprised of a number of buildings fully equipped with the latest machinery and appliances known to the trade.” The application of science was moving ahead pre-WW1 – and funded in part by British investment consortiums.

    This does not mean there was not another leap in the early 1960s but it was not the first. The combines complaint based on EP Taylor’s decades of consolidation and progress resulted in the ruling in Regina v. Can. Breweries Ltd. [1960] O.R. 601 (HCJ) which was released on 8 February 1960. In response to the fear of big industrial beer cornering the market in Canada includes the line “the quality of the products is better than when the supplies came from a number of smaller breweries.” It was better because it was lighter and more consistent. Because it was scientific. This is the same massive brewing entity which our pal Bert Grant worked for from 1944 to 1959 starting in the lab ending up as assistant director of microbiological control.

    My point is that scientific brewing did not start in the 1960s. If pressed, that is the decade I might argue that sees the backlash that led to micro starting – when the homebrewing boom starts in the UK in response to Canada’s EP Taylor applying his North American tested commerical and industrial techniques in Britain. The fruits of the first half of the 1900s was the lighter ales and lagers that were first loved and then reviled when taken too far. Which is where we are with the tap room Frankenbeers of today.

    1. I think you misunderstand my point. I’m arguing that beer follows cycles of technological bursts followed by retrenchment to tradition, which slowly morphs under the influence of the next technological wave.

      I tried to communicate that in the set up. This happened as commercialization developed within brewing *thousands* of years ago (and up to a couple hundred in the UK). When brewing left the farm/house, it became specialized (esp with maltings) and this caused a disruption. Another key moment was the introduction of hops, which Hanseatic cities used to dominate local markets. It happened in the centuries of British dominion, as new technologies transformed breeding every few decades through the 20th century.

      So yes, I entirely agree the 1960s weren’t the first moment of this kind of disruption. It was just the most recent incidence before the traditionalist retrenchment of craft brewing—which has subsequently itself evolved back to a technological/food science embrace, a wholesale inversion of the original impetus for small-scale brewing.

  3. No, I get that. But that is the thing I do not agree with. I see these things as linear steady progress that can be adapted into things like cycles and bursts if we want to see them that way. There is, based on my understanding, little that happens on or around 1960 that is a milestone. Similarly, the Hanseatic Leagues invention was not really about hops but having a merchant fleet that also happened to be the biggest militarized navy on the Baltic and North Seas. That was the foundation of their ability to shift the beers brewed in Hamburg in the 1300s to 1500s. Hops were a side show preservative that also made their supply stable. Flavour or displacing gruit weren’t really part of the consideration.

    But I fully accept that if one wants to see cycles, one sees cycles – just as I like to see constant progression based on deep antecedents. It might just be how the individual mind orders such things.

  4. “the Hanseatic Leagues invention was not really about hops but having a merchant fleet that also happened to be the biggest militarized navy on the Baltic and North Seas. ”

    My take is that you could not have had one without the other: fleet but no hops, you don’t have a product that will last long enough to ship to foreign markets. Hops but no fleet, you don’t have a way to ship the product out. Each was essential.

  5. Thanks for commenting, Martyn. I don’t fully disagree except hopped beer was a pretty minor product for them. They were shipping timber and lumber and pitch from Russia to the UK and northern Europe for centuries. Beer rarely makes up a big part of the value of the goods in their holds. But hopped was certainly key to the wealth of Hamburg – their key brewing centre – and was clearly something Hansa imposed as part of their forcing their will into the nations states they traded with. Certainly no hopped beer without the navy. But without hopped beer, there would have still been the navy pushing the other goods. But, let’s face it, there was hopped beer.

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