Your Weekly Beer News Considered And Consolidated For Exactly What Your Thursday Demands

I need to make sure I am less self-indulgent this week. Last week was a bit too… thematic without, you know, a solid theme. I deserve a rebuke from time to time. I thought Stan was helpfully chastising me in his comment… but I am not quite sure. You have a look:

I’m pretty sure Alan McLeod was lamenting the use of the term “deep dive” in his commentary on recent beer news last week. Fact is when I see the words “deep dive” I expect what follows to go deep less often than not.

I never do well with these sort of mathy statements. But then… I thought it would be “more often than not” if deep dives labelled properly were more common than the tawdry shams.  Doesn’t “less often than not” mean the shams outweigh the actuals?  And if you think about it – by their very nature – these summary things are more like strolls in the shallows, not deep dives at all.  Oh dear. I’ve been self-indulgent again. Must stop. Here’s some news.

My problem with the thesis on glitter beer by the entirely reliable Carla Jean Lauter is knowing the many really stupid and indulgent things which give me joy. They still remain sorta stoopid* despite my joy. I am reminded, in fact, of that passage from Thomas More’s early modern masterpiece Utopia:

They divide the pleasures of the body into two sorts—the one is that which gives our senses some real delight, and is performed either by recruiting Nature and supplying those parts which feed the internal heat of life by eating and drinking, or when Nature is eased of any surcharge that oppresses it, when we are relieved from sudden pain, or that which arises from satisfying the appetite which Nature has wisely given to lead us to the propagation of the species. 

In first year undergrad, someone in class asked what More meant by eased surcharge. Poop, said the prof. Or, now, glitter pee, I suppose.

Elsewhere, someone by the name of Gary, left in charge of UK grocer Sainsbury’s social media, was having a hard time at the end of last week but Matthew L stepped forward to straight-forwardly and helpfully explain the economics of chilling beer at the general retail level:

I’m closer to the shop floor realities of retail than Gary is, and I can explain why supermarkets don’t, as a rule, chill their entire beer supply and display chain.  As stated above, this might be a revelation to those who don’t work in my industry.

What a sensible explanation. And what a sentence from Stonch: “For an hour and a half, I was a fixed point among the shifting population of tourists, as I savoured glasses of each of the four beers poured at a simple bar.” While we are at it, what a photo and caption from The Beer Nut!

Good to see that sensible sweaters are big in Brussels. TBN actually had another point… which I liked. And I also liked this proclamation from Matty C about London. I usually don’t like proclamations, urban or otherwise, but this is actually a good one. It’s nice. Not quite Belgian millennial sweater nice but actually pretty close.

Speaking of almost Belgian millennial sweater goodness, if I were to pick a review to review as illustrating what a book review (and, yes, I know this sounds indulgent) it’s this review by The Tand of the new book by Stange and Webb. It even includes substantive arguments as to why one should trust the new book by Stange and Webb on Belgian beer:

The authors point out – and this is important – that they did not seek samples from breweries, but rather, went there and bought the beers. They are also keen to opine that, in an age of obfuscation and blurring of lines, often by large conglomerates,  the place of origin of beer remains important, as it adds to authenticity. This is particularly so in Belgium, where beer in all its diverse forms so often has a clear link to its local or regional roots. 

Some will still insist that paying your own way to prepare a book about beer is impossible. Sounds like a very good one. And what is a good “two”? Well, that’s the number of new good things you’ve learned so far about Belgium. Boom! Here’s something interesting which is not related to Belgium a confession from Boak and Bailey:

We’ve never been quite sure. Think it refers to a distinct grain / seed / breadcrust flavour derived from malt.

I think I can be helpful here… if the question is “what does a biscuity malt mean?” If you go way back into this blog’s archives you will find beer reviews like this or this.  And there you will see me using descriptors like biscuity and breadcrusty and pumpernickely. When I did that I sometimes actually went and got a biscuit or crust of bread to confirm my reference. But then… was it an arrowroot biscuit or a butter biscuit? Whole wheat or French? I also would find I wanted to describe something as raisiny but  then wonder is it a Thompson or Sultana? Words like this draw you into thinking about flavour. Based on your own actual experience. I think it is fundamental to learning how to taste things, about how I taste things.  You may have another path to the same end. There are likely many. But this is one I recommend.

Question: if you call a brewery “they” then don’t they then have souls?

Finally, our two nominees for “The Unhelpful But Beer-Related Semi-Science Story Of The Week“:

Australians Have Developed a Beer That You Can Drink in Space

Why Do Some Beer Bubbles Appear to Defy Physics?

There. I am done for now. There could be more to be said but I think I am done for this week. Yup. Feels like it. Done. Big Supreme Court of Canada ruling on buying beer and then transporting it across provincial boundaries being issued later today.  But that’ll deserve its own space and quiet consideration. So it will.

*St👀pid, even. Which, you know, owning the complete DVD set of Space: 1999 requires me to acknowledge. And the 200 lbs of men’s tweedwear.  

The End Of March Is Already Here And I Do I Have Some Beer News For You!

Time. March 2018 is almost gone and I barely noticed it was slipping away. Q2 looms. Which is great as I hate winter but which is not so great as I turn 55 next month. Did I mention that thing about time? Still frigging cold outside, too.  That in itself should help you put the week’s news about fretting about beer in perspective. Come on spring. Hello? Anyone there?* OK, I get it… let’s see if the beer news is cheerier.

First, another vintage brewery necktie for the collection. Please – send me your neckties. I may not get samples and would stick nails in my eyes before I went on a junket but I will take your ties! That would make me happy.

Next, a number. 6,266!  Wow! That’s more than before and likely less than from a bit from now. That of course, is not the real news. It’s nothing like that deep insight that things are “normalizing” – whatever that is. No, the real news came out in a web PR release that came out a day after the infographic that unpacked the numbered with an inordinate level of honest detail in the section entitled “Per Brewer Growth“:

In absolute terms, per brewery growth was less than 200 barrels last year. In 2014, it was almost 900 barrels. To drop like that suggests both that many brewers probably aren’t seeing the growth trajectories of breweries from a few years ago, and that many brewers are declining. The table below shows the distribution of companies with 2016 and 2017 data (so excluding 2017 openings). I’ve starred the “more than 50% group” as a reminder that a huge chunk of them are 2016 openings—50% will average growth of 100% or more just due to when they opened in 2016.

2017 Growth % of Breweries
-10% or worse 17.0%
-10% to -1% 10.3%
+/- 1% 15.3%
1% to 10% 10.0%
10% to 25% 13.0%
25% to 50% 11.6%
More than 50%* 22.9%

The positive interpretation of the table above is that even in an extremely competitive environment, 73% of breweries were flat or up last year. The flip side is that 27% saw declines greater than 1%, and 17% saw double-digit declines. 

Interestingly – but that is actually not the story. Notice above that there is a category for “+/-1%”… that’s is a weird choice of measurement. Unlike all the other bands. If you remove it, and aggregate it with the categories above it you will see that 42.6% of breweries saw no discernible growth or actually saw significant retraction. Then, understand that this is a percentage of the number of breweries and not a reflection of brewery production.  Since 2014, as the infographic says, there have been over 2,500 brewery openings in the US. 800 in just the last year. As these breweries are going from zero growth to some growth, it is logical that most of the growth by brewery numbers is based in the tiny recent entrants. Old bulky big craft appears to be stagnant or worse. I think we have been coming to that understanding over the last couple of years but it’s good to see the BA set out the numbers that tell the tale. Good news that.

Speaking of old bulky big craft, medium-large US craft brewer Green Flash is pulling up stakes and hightailing it out of the “branch plant out east” business. Likely they found out, as many are, that folk out east have plenty of beer out east that tastes like beer made out east and they like it just fine. Interesting: “…this is a move that was made to solidify investments to keep San Diego’s operations above water.” Wow.

Pete Brown wrote a wonderful thing Tuesday all about how rough his last decade or so has been. Folk called him brave, honest and an example. All true. It’s also a huge success. Kind of a graduation day speech. See, I have had two or three dabblings with what Pete wrote so openly about and, so, I know (i) I still couldn’t write what he wrote and (ii) it’s a measure of his success that he did. Hooray! I am very pleased but also concerned given how many people in good beer I would describe as stressed out, unhappy, dysfunctional workaholic who soothed themselves by eating and drinking too much. Be careful out there.

In another episode of where are the beer bloggers of 2009, Jeff of Stonch [ … now of Rye … but presently in Lunigiana…] reviewed a  beer this week:

Unsolicited trade samples aren’t usually terribly good. In truth, if a brewery’s making good beer, those with an interest in buying it or writing about it will have sought it out themselves. Similarly, beers with obscure geek culture references as names – the type that leave one none the wiser even when explained in detail – also tend to be shit. This one, therefore, surprised me twice.

Fabulously honest writing. Unlike anything edited and sold for payment. Which makes one wonder why, as shared in the recently circulated NAGBW Newsletter 2018.3, that the topics for NAGBW symposium during the Craft Brewers Conference has the three topics for panel presentations:

– “Beyond the Byline”: book publishing and podcasting;
– “Editor’s Roundtable”: leaders from industry publications share insights; and
– “Industry Roundtable”: hear from industry pros about pressing topics in beer.

None of which will lead to be a better writer even if you become a more compliant, less individualized one. It won’t make a Ron. And we all do know there is no real money in beer writing, right? Don’t be doing this for making money from writing… please. And don’t be sloppy researchers. Ben hates that.

Speaking of sloppy research, the great thing about the debunking of myths about lambic (often seemingly peddled by the edited and published) by Roel Mulder of Lost Beers is how the actual far more interesting story of lambic is explained.  It’s younger than the industrial revolution, it has been brewed in a far wider set of locales and didn’t rely on old hops. It’s about as traditional as mass produced Porter in mid-1700s was. Fabulous.

So there you have it. Another week filtering the positive from the dreary, the genuine from the fake, real from the seeming, the worthy from the transient. Ahhh… annnnnd… nothing turns on it. I probably could have done better, too. If I had made the effort. Something similar will happen next week. And I will be there to check it out as will Boak and Bailey on Saturday just as Stan will on Monday.

*making the noise of knocking on a window pane.

Beer and Art: The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

Nosing around the Met‘s digitized collection a bit more, I came across “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1565. Not hard as it was on the front page. I have posted a few times about paintings by his son, the imaginatively named Pieter Bruegel the Younger, over the years but this one struck me as perhaps illustrating a few things worth thinking about.

Look at the scale of the people compared to the height of the grain. One of the characteristics of Battledore barley two hundred years later in Britain was that it had a short stalk. It could survive hail or wind better than other varieties but didn’t provide all that useful straw that we learned about in relation to beer in New York before the switch to barley from wheat. The stalk was in itself important to the community as a multi-purpose material for mattress stuffing to looser wheat mash spargings. In “The Harvesters” the stalks are tall and entire stooks* are taken from the field with care. The stooks are strong enough to serve as a bench for the workers having their meal.

Harvest time is big stuff. The image is a narrative of agricultural economy in the Renaissance. If you click on the image at the met site, you can zoom in quite closely. Look at how the topography is used to illustrate the economic activity. The field being harvested is on the top of a hill. Scythed and stooked, it is carried one by one to the bottom of the hill where it is loaded on a cart and carried away. There are three communities in the painting. The hilltop has a church to the upper left seen through the trees. Down below there is a manor of some sort where some are swimming while others are killing a tied up goose as a blood sport. In the far distance, there is a coastal town with ships in the harbour. Is one point of the painting’s structure that the grain gets exported?  Or is beer made from the grain getting shipped out?  I should cross reference the painting with Unger.

Where is this place? The blurb attached to the image by the Met says:

Bruegel’s series is a watershed in the history of western art. The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism, and the unidealized description of the local scene is based on natural observations.

But is this really a local scene or an imaginary one? Where is it? Bruegel lived in coastal Antwerp, Belgium a city of about 100,000 at the time and the richest in Europe. He was born in the river town of Breda, another community now in the Netherlands but then also in the Duchy of Brabant. Perhaps one of those two centres is in the background.  Could you find the field and stand where the artist stood?

But what about the beer? As one commentator notes, the scene is about producing and consuming. Or – if you are the goose – producing, torturing then consuming. The workers are eating bread and cheese as well as pears that one guy is shaking from the tree to the upper right. And they are drinking. A central character is a man carrying two large jugs up the path. Another man in the circle having a meal drinks directly from a jug. A fourth jug with what looks like a loaf of bread on top sits in the uncut wheat to the lower left.

We are told by Markowski that saison and biere de garde were brewed for centuries in the Low Countries and northern France to attract and retain workers. Farmhouse beers. The scene in “The Harvesters” is smack-dab in the middle of that culture, in the saison zone that included Brabant. Unger explains that particularly in the sixteenth century, tax records indicate a wide number of names for various grades of beer: “… dun and scheynbier and volksbier and scharbier and scherbier all turn up. No matter the name, it was always cheap.”** Was that what was in the jugs? We can’t reach back to ask those in the picture what they called their drink or even if it was in fact beer. But it could be and, frankly, likely was so… it is what it was. Day drinking 1565.

*I use the SW Ontario usage, spelling and pronunciation of the in-laws.
**at page 129.

Ontario: Golden Beach Pale Ale, Sawdust City

kwakAh, my least favorite glass ever meets my favourite brewery of 2016. I got the Kwak glass likely the best part of a decade ago and had to wash a decade’s worth of dust off it to celebrate or mark or mourn today’s news. I am not sure I deeply care as I have never liked the beers of Bosteels all that much – though I liked Kasteel in 2004. Jeff has some of the early reports. Suffice it to say that the Great Satan now has a maker of muted B grade Belgian malty things in its portfolio. My world has not altered.

Which is not what I said when a number of mid-central Ontario’s Sawdust City beers started showing up in tins placed on retail shelves here in south-eastern Ontario. Great value at about $2.75 CND each, they all have more then held up their end of the bargain. This 4.5% ale pours a swell yellow gold with a rich white head. On the nose there’s plenty of weedy herb along with a fair chunk of white grapefruit rind over a cream background. The swally is interesting. A brightly ringing bitterness elbows out a modest lemon cream cake foundation. Lots of dry white grapefruit pith from the four hops named on the side of the can. Busy but still attractive. Especially on a day that is hitting 102F with the humidity.

You know, I’ll pour the next beer in another glass and put this monstrosity away likely until I hit my sixties. It’s all more than a little overdone, pointless marketing for a brewery that really hid in a safe spot in the market. Now owned by the forces of evil. Or of the future. Or just of reality. Gnashing over it all is a bit like being angry about that goldfish that died back in junior high. Things change. Things you have ultimately little to do with. Good beer, however, keeps showing up. Like this one from Sawdust City.

Beer And Art: Bruegel’s “Return From The Inn”

image275

A couple nights in Montreal leads to a lot of good things. A number of forced marches for the family through an alarmingly frigid city to this meal or that shop. Buying beer in a grocery store. Five new pairs of Converse sneakers for distribution across the clan. And a stop at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where I saw this, “Return from the Inn” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (again with the PBtY) … or is it Return from the Inn? Such things elude me. It’s not the greatest image in terms of sharpness but a larger scale image is clickably before you if you want a closer look.

Aside from all the allegorical stuff, I noticed the two items related to brewing right away: the massive sacks of grain on the untended cart as well as the sign of the wreath indicating, I understand, that strong drink is on offer within. I would expect the birds pecking away at the spilled grain which has fallen to the ground would be a sign of decadent waste to someone 400 years ago. Not sure if the load has been left by carters now inside filling their bellies with ale or whethers it’s the inn’s own supply. Lot of snow on those wheel spokes.

I suggest you ignore all the brawling gifts swinging agricultural tools and the steamy suggestions of sexual faithless. Reminds me too much of the final half hour of a craft beer fest. A rather snazzy explanation of the whole thing can be found here. The image is from around 1620 or just when various European nations are setting up colonies in what are now Quebec, New York, Delaware and Boston. This would be what normal would look like to those earliest colonists, the way they would have approached – or avoided – this sort of inn if out looking for a beer of an afternoon.

Sour Studies: Timmermans Oude Gueuze 2013, Belgium

image232Session beer. 5.5% and sufficiently sour that a personal sized 750 ml gives at least two hours – or four laundry loads – worth of sips. It pours a slightly clouded golden straw. Plenty of must and funky tang when the nose is rammed into the nonic. Still, a bit of fruit in there. Maybe lingonberry. Just a hint. Much more going on in the swally. Sour, yes, certainly sour with a light summer apple, lemon, creamy wheat, nutmeg heart. “Rotten lemon, more like it!” says the lad after he sticks a finger in the glass. Which pretty much sums it up.

What is my relationship to this sort of brutal beer after all these years of study? I certainly have an appetite for any I get a chance to lay my hands on but they come along so few and far between for Ontarians given out mediocre retail options that I wonder if the scarcity makes them more interesting. I bought this in Albany a few months ago and do like to have a few bottles of panic gueuze… but wonder if I would be quite so excited if I could buy one of these any old day down the street? Or should I just be happy that one of these every three or four months is just what keeps me happy. You really can’t measure the relative value of the exotic.

BAers give it solid respect.

Illinois: Sofie 2012, Goose Island Beer, Chicago

The beer that proves craft v. crafty is a big sloppy fib – and well within the range of possible futures for brewing generally. $8.99 last weekend just across the border. I look for it and its siblings whenever I cross over as it is one of the best values in good beer.

Lemon, pears and fine herb aromas. In the mouth, bright mid-weight beer with a creamy texture up front followed by slightly astringent green apple and lemon acidity. Overarching bready huskiness, light spice, a bit of sulfurous funk and a slightly yoghurty yeast. White pepper note in finish. Loverly and reasonable. Rare combination.

An absolutely swell beer made by a brewery owned by an international faceless monolith. Deal with it. BAers have the love.

Mmm… What I Need Is A Big Bowl Of Thick Beer!

flemish1I knew this. I think I knew this anyway:

“This process is much like how you would do in a fourth-grade germination science project, where the grains would be soaked in water for about 24 hours, drained and then laid between sheets of cloth until they sprouted,” said Amanda Mummert, an anthropology graduate student helping Armelagos with his research. After germination, the grains were dried and then milled into a flour used to make bread. Streptomyces bacteria most likely entered the beer-making process either during the storage or drying of the grain or when the bread dough was left to rise. Nubian brewers would take the dough and bake it until it developed a tough crust, but retained an almost raw center. The bread was broken into a vat containing tea made from the unmilled grains. The mixture was then fermented, turning it into beer. The final product didn’t look much like the pint of amber you sip at your local watering hole. “When we talk about this ancient Egyptian beer, we’re not talking about Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Armelagos said. “What we’re talking about is a kind of cereal gruel.”

I knew that. Not that bacteria stuff. No, not that. Forget all that medical properties stuff. Look at that word “gruel”! I think there was reference to the thickness of 1500s gruel beer back in Martyn’s Beer: The Story of The Pint which I am surprised to now read that I blogged about seven and a half years ago. There is stuff in Hornsey about beer as gruel as well. Boozy porridge. So, how is it when we are presented with these supposedly authentic ancient beers, well, they pours like water or least an IPA?

More to the point, don’t you want to try some breakfast gruel beer? Couldn’t we make it like it was enjoyed back then? Not the contemporary southern African version for 12 to 20 but the big vat whole dang community serving sized pot o’ Quaker Oats meets Budweiser. If we look again at “Village Kermis With Theater and Procession” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (discussed in in 2007 in terms of the pub game in the lower left) we see in the lower center the making of a big mess of something being sucked back by the crowd, right across the street from the joint I’d guess was the tavern. Have a look at the painting Bruegel maybe ripped off and the detail is even better. I am not suggesting we need to get all deep about this stuff but does anyone do a village kermis with gruel booze anymore – other than, say, in rural Romanian where I am pretty sure I will never find myself? Would people folk to such a legitimate recreation as much as for another thinly veiled faux stab at brand buffing? Apparently the children’s games scholars are already at it.

Beau’s Thursday Night Tasting In the Backyard

A fun way to spend the evening. Beau’s had their quarterly business meetings in town and they all came over for a few hours of opening bottles – including the father, son and a sizable host. We nine started well with two saisons and biere de garde: Hennepin, Jack D’or and 3 Monts. Batch 10 from Pretty Things was much better than the more recent bacth 13. Lesson: let it sit.

Things got a little wobbly with three Quebec takes on Belgian white beer. We thought RJ’s Coup de Grisou was fine and a good value beer. And Barbier from L’Ilse D’Orleans was not well understood given its level of rich maltiness. But Blanche from Charlevoix was a revelation in nasal interaction with beer. Freesia. Fabulous.

Three more bottles were opened. Trade Winds Tripel from the Bruery was a bit muddled with a nice aroma. Too much of the malt ball for the style or maybe just our level of interest given the other choices. Next, the Poperings Hommel Ale, as always, was amazing. The greatest pale ale in the history of the planet? Could be.

Then the taxi was called for the eight to be off. It was time. The mosquitoes had begun to bite. Just time to open a quart of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, one of the few beer that could follow a Poperings. Like any divider of people, some were not with it. They got the first taxi. The rest of use stood on the driveway, waiting on the warm quiet summer night sipping. Then the taxi and then they were off and away.

Do Olde Geuze And Oysters Go Together?

oysgeu1-1I was out hunting for some Caribbean stout to go with the PEI oysters I picked up and the incredibly jambi Mike Mundell’s shop this afternoon. Without success. What to do?

I love oysters. I used to live in view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on PEI’s north shore and heading over to Carr’s at Stanley Bridge for a half dozen Malpeques to suck back with my home brew. Despite the trade’s odd view of what makes for a benefit, the oysters know not what is done in their name. Quietly in their rocky shells they ignore such things, preferring to be pretty damn tasty and – at a buck and change – a great value.

So, instead of a strong sweet stout, I thought I would try them with a geuze, in the case a half bottle of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, the beer I had last New Year’s Eve. This one was bottled back on Friday, February 1, 2008 when I was having an Old Guardian for the twelfth edition of The Session. Let’s see what happens in mid-summer two and a half years later..

Wow. That is quite a combination. The barnyard funk of the geuze hits the oyster’s wharfy skank head on in your mouth. One of my more intense taste experiences when I think of it – which is all I can do given it is happening in my mouth right now. All that is missing is an overly aged chunk of blue cheese to make this as overwhelming an experience as it could be. But the aftertaste is creamy, like two waves counteracting each other leading to calm. The oyster brings out the apple notes and places the acidity in context. I am happily reaching for the next meaty oyster.

Success. Each assisted through the difficulties the other can pose. A vital combination.