30 Sep 2009

A matter of origin

I was going to rant about something else, but the comment that one Manrique left on the Spanish version of my review of Asturian (or wannabe Asturian) beers made me change my mind (don't worry, that rant will be published soon).

The comment says, in quite dodgy Spanish: "with all respect, I don't agree at all with your views about Belenos and L'esbardu: I think they are very tasty beers and your comment about the labels is typical of a beer amateur that likes give his opinion about everything, but sometimes in excess. As for the rest, I think they are both very interesting beers with a lot of character"

Manrique's opinion about the beers, provided it's honest, is as valid as mine, so I'm not going to argue that.

Neither I'm going to argue the overopinionated beer amateur thing, because he's not that far off the mark.

I will argue the reason he calls me an amateur, though, the labels thing. In my review I complained about the almost total lack of information on the labels of both Belenos and L'esbardu. You can't even find where or by whom the beers were brewed. Exclusivas Torma, the company mentioned on the labels, are actually only the people who commissioned and distribute the beers. And it turns out that neither of them are brewed in Asturias, they aren't even brewed in Spain! They are Belgian (which shows that, even for an amateur, I'm not that bad at this. I mention in the review that Belenos has a "Belgian character").

It was thanks to fivixx's comment that I learnt about this (yeah, I know, I could have dived a bit further in the depths of the Interweb, but you already know how I am with that). In fact, Raquel, the person who gave me these beers, picked them thinking they were Asturian. And who can blame her? The beers have Asturian names and images and, even though nowhere it is mentioned that they are brewed in Asturias, the phrase "Belenos Súper, the beer of the Asturians" doesn't leave room for much discussion. Oh! And if I remember well, in the website of Eclusivas Torma (not accessible anymore) Belenos was listed as a Spanish beer.

I am not sure how nationalistic Asturians are (quite a bit, I guess), but I find it very unlikely that they will take as "theirs" a product that isn't made in the Principality, whatever it might be.

My conclusion is that Exclusivas Torma is cheating the consumer. It'd be interesting to know what the reason for that is. Simpleminded nationalistic demagoguery, perhaps. It could also be that the motives are not so noble. By not putting the name of the brewer, if the relationship with them ever finishes, nothing will stop Exclusivas to hire another brewery, who could even change the recipe, and still sell it as Belenos. As long as the ABV is kept the same, nobody will realise anything until after having opened the bottle (and many won't realise it even after finishing the beer). But that is getting a bit paranoid, isn't it?

I want to make clear that I am not against "on order brewing". Quite the contrary, I think it's a great alternative for those who would like to have their "own beer", but can't or don't want to set up a brewery, and for the breweries to expand their business with little or no risk involved. But still, the people should be told what the origin of the beer is.

And that is exactly the point I want to make with all this useless ranting. The importance of the "origin" of a beer, which might be even bigger if we speak about "craft" brews.

The big brands have made an excellent job at devaluing the concept of "origin". That is how Guinness can get away with all the Irish bollocks, or Stella Artois with using the slogan "Belgium's Original Beer" regardless of where they are brewed, or, for that matter, Pilsner Urquell with using the name Pilsner Urquell even when it's brewed in Poland or Russia. But the origin is important, and very much so. There are regional differences in beers of the same style, travel around Germany if you don't believe it.

And to those of you who still don't get it, let me ask you this question: Would you buy a bottle of wine without knowing where it comes from? Why asking less from beer, then?

Na Zdraví!

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6 comments:

  1. It is interesting that you choose those three beers when talking of origins because in my experience they all taste better on their home turf. Guinness in Ireland is better than elsewhere; Stella in Belgium actually isn't all that bad and of course Pilsner in Pilsen is great. While I miss Czech beer to a certain extent, I am enjoying "drinking local" as Evan would say.

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  2. I don't pass judgment on the beers, just on the way they are sold when brewed under license.
    But now that you've brought the Stella in Belgium thing up, have you read Pete Brown's recent comment on it?

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  3. Read and I actually agree with him, considering I had Stella from Leuven in 2005. Haven't had it since then though so I am prepared to accept it being different. Still I am sure it is better than Prazske Pivovary brewed Stella.

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  4. "Still I am sure it is better than Prazske Pivovary brewed Stella."

    Well, that doesn't a whole lot in terms of quality, does it?

    It might be that back then you had one of the last batches of decent Stella, because I still kind of liked Staropramen back in 2005, before things started going downhill... I wonder if the beer will improve once there are new owners.

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  5. It would be great if new owners resurrected the Branik brand, especially the dark! Could you imagine if some seriously wealthy maniac decided to bankroll you, myself and Evan running Prazske Pivovary? ;)

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  6. HA!!! I don't think I'd like to get anywhere close to a maniac like that. Someone who would ask any of us to run Pražské Pivovary would be a menace to society...:)

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