Fascists, Racists, Pinkos, Brewers And…

Not much inclined to write for the last week or so. Late 1970s nuclear fear retro followed quickly by 1930s Nazi fear retro. Seems our neighbours to the south hired a moron and he is turning out to be a fabulous moron attracting other morons to flit about his flame. Like last summer, one barely knows what to reach for but, perhaps unlike last summer, one knows one might need to. What to do in these troubled times? Perhaps explore how fascism, communism and racism (perhaps bundled as “totalitarian supremacism“?) has been known to brewing over time? Let’s see.

Earlier this year, Hungary witnessed a bit of a political controversy over the appearance of Heineken’s red star – which Hungarian law considers a totalitarian symbol. As might have been expected, it was apparently as much as anything about contemporary politics and the time-honoured role brewing money plays in that game.

Totes Supps can also show up in more unexpected ways. In 2016, a brewery in Bavaria was accused of offering a Nazi friendly lager named Grenzzaun Halbe, or Border Fence Half. Priced at 88 euro cents a bottle, it was considered code for HH or Heil Hitler. The brewer in the usual way explained “insisted the name and slogan were not directed against migrants, but referred to defending Bavarian culture“* but, oddly, also said they had lent resources to the refugee influx.

Then there are the old boys who, you know, just say those sorts of things. Yesterday, Jason Notte provided a bit of a walk down memory lane offering the legacy of US brewing mogul Bill Coors who was apparently quoted in 1984 for providing such comments as “…one of the best things they did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains…” and “…they lack the intellectual capacity to succeed, and it’s taking them down the tubes” though the resulting libel suit against a newspaper that had the gall to report his words was dropped. The old git is still with us apparently, turning 101 the other day. Other similar substantial claims were made against the brewery in those days. Interesting, then, that three years later this was an opinion reported by the Syracuse Herald-Journal of February 10, 1987 just when Coors was entering the CNY market:

“When you buy their product you are, in effect, inviting the Coors people into your home,” said Joseph Welch, executive secretary of the Greater Syracuse Labor Council. “I think anyone with a conscience wouldn’t want those kind of people in their homes.”**

But these brewers can also be ingrained into the movement. If we go back a bit further, one can look at what brewers did during the time when fascists were actually in the ascent. To the right is a very handy graph with the somewhat vague title “Birra Peroni’s strategic response to institutional pressure” from the 2016 book Accounting and Food: Some Italian Experiences by Sargiacomo, D’Amico and Di Pietra. I say vague given it illustrates, in part, this business decision from 1926 to the regime’s fall:

…the Fascist government tried to control production and balance demand and supply by controlling the supply side…. In this context, the company’s strategic response may be viewed as a compromise. Giacomo Peroni, former president of the earlier Unione Italiana Fabbricanti di Birra (Italian Brewers’ Union) was put at the helm of the new association. As the managers of the new association, Giacomo could act as an institutional entrepreneur and therefore bend the institutional change to his own and his company’s interests. In fact, despite the need to reduce the company’s production volume as imposed by the Fascist government, in his role Giacomo Peroni managed to avoid such cuts and toss them off on his competitors. This is suggested by the fact that it was precisely in those years that the company increased its production volume and sales. 

Suggested?*** Hmm… Apparently, Peroni also fed demand from what are described as the “new African colonies” aka the invasion of Ethiopia. Nothing like a captive audience. Note: Peroni continues as a brand now owned by Japanese brewer Asahi, achieving apparently some recent success.

And we do also recall that the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch did lead to the army being called out, an arrest, a trial and a five year term. Well, then someone gave Hitler a pen in jail and he wrote down his evil which was shared after an early release.

What does all this prove? Well, as you can see in the footnotes, we can laugh at it. We can also support the democratic processes that stand against it. But that totalitarian supremacist is going to keep popping up. No point in pretending, offering a beer and dreaming that people are good. Some people are very bad. Having lived though an number of genocides at the youthful age of 54 – from Cambodia to the Balkans – I don’t expect that evil to change. But if we understand that it is an insidiously corrosive, inveigling tendency we should be aware that it needs being watched out for and given proper response.

*See here for more.
**See here for more.
***See here for more.


Sour Beer Studies: Barriquée, Panil, Parma, Italy

A few weeks or maybe months ago I received an email from a reader asking that I do not use the “Week Of…” format anymore as RSS could not deal with a constantly growing post. I resisted the idea but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that perhaps in addition to the RSS issues, the “Week of…” posts were not as useful as they might be, might not add up to more than a set of notes on a style that are not often used by either me or you, the reader. So I am going to change things around and group some separate posts by themes for a while.

The first topic has been one I have also been thinking about – the sour styles of the low countries. Prior to last year I don’t think I had had a true dry lambic and when I had my first Flemish red, a Rodenbach Grand Cru in December 2004, I called it “the best malt vinegar you will ever taste.” I ended up being nicer in the full review but, by contrast, I was not nice at all when I had a Cantillon last year:

Quite plainly watery at the outset then acid and more acid…then one note of poo. Not refreshing to slightly sub-Cromwellian stridency. Annoying.

I’ve been goaded, guided and chastised. I’ve been told that I miss the point. There is one point that I have been wondering about, however, is how these traditional sour beers developed in “ye olde medieval tymes” when there was no tradition of storing beer before a certain point. Beer was made to be consumed quickly or at least within a season. Storing a cask for years is an act of luxury. When did the era of cask storage arise and who did the storing? You have to be careful about these things as we learned in Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski in his discussion of biere de garde which might seem a traditional style but it is one that was framed in its high alcohol form through adoption by students in Lille, France in the 1970s. So one has to ask how it is these things came to be with a wary eye, especially when luxury is claimed…can its cousins snobbery and price inflation be far behind?

That all being said, this is a study of single beers as well as broader phenomena and the first I am looking at, Panil Barriquée, can only be described as a gift from the kind people at Ontario beer and wine distributors Roland and Russell. I am informed that what I received was the slightly more sour version for North America – Stonch and Knut discuss the various grades of this beer over here. The beer pours a fine tan cream foam with heavy lacing over cloudy deep caramel ale. The ale is sweet, fruity and tart – not unlike a tarty apply tart. In the mouth, it is brisk, vinegared, juicy stuff. Plenty of fruit like raisin, cherry, passion fruit and apple but under a sub-astringent tangy acidity. In the finish there is pink grapefruit, hard wood, cherry, vanilla and biscuit and some refreshing lightening up on the acid. I like it like I like rhubarb pie or strong blue cheese, both of which might go with it. Smacky more than puckery.

Knut visited Panil last spring and told us about it at this post. The BAers tell me about what is going on here and all five like it. I like this BA reviewer’s observation “stewed apple amongst mixed coarse Indian spices in ghee” because it is sort of that, too. All in all it is both an approachable Flanders Red and a complex one. It is a lovely thing so I am happy to report that the Sour Beer Studies has started off promisingly. For a first class, that is enough.

Knut Goes To Italy

…L’ultima creazione di Renzo…

The city of Parma is quite sleepy on this spring afternoon. Actually, so am I, I got up at half past in the morning to get there, but that is not the point. The bus stop in front of the train station is largely deserted, too, but a young man from Ghana helps me to find the right platform. The 02:12 bus is not appearing, and not the 02:20, either. I give up and walk across to the taxi stand, and a taxi driver quotes a rate that is quite acceptable for a 20 minute ride, so I get in.

My destination is the Panil Brewery, located in the countryside to the south of Parma, where the flat landscape of the Po plain gives way to small hills. It is a pleasant drive. The poppies are already in bloom at the roadside, and the leaves are a dozen shades of green. The fields smells of manure from the cows and sheep that produce the Parmesan and Parma ham. It turns out that this is a holiday, so that is the reason for the bus not turning up. On Liberation day most things shut down (and a fair portion of the population had turned out to heckle the mayor, according to reports). And I will not go into who they were liberated from. The Italians?

The brewery is in the countryside within view of the picturesque castle of Torrechiara. It sits in an idyllic setting with a few tables outside the shop, a dozen hens of various colours walking feely around the premises. The place is quite deserted when I arrive, although the doors are open. In addition to the brewing, they also make wine from grapes from the area, which I take note of trying out another time.

After some time spent walking around calling out for assistance, I get help from Aba, a lady fluent in English. She tells me that the brewery is run by her sister and her husband, but that they are not around at the moment. She presents the range of beers they have – very much inspired by Belgian styles. There is a pilsener, a blonde ale and a brown ale, and there is a stout in the making which is not bottled yet. The most interesting beers in the range, however, are two ales aged in oak barrels and then again fermented in the bottle – triple fermented. One of them is a sour version of their Barriquée ale, which I have tasted before, the other is the September ale, which is brewed with grape juice blended in – a sort of beer/wine hybrid. She tells me that these beers are mainly for export and sale directly from the brewery, the locals tend to find them too extreme!

I buy as many bottles I manage to carry with me, and I really look forward to trying them out. While I wait for my transport back to town I notice a small restaurant around the corner. The next time I will probably make a day trip out of it and make some time to see the castle, too!

[Ed.: Check here for the Beer Advocate’s take on these brews. Check here for more of Knut’s travels. Click here for Knut’s own blog.]