Tweet About a month and a half ago I had the chance, and the honour, to meet Tim Webb. It was luck, really. I had agreed with a friend to have lunch at Zlý Časy and there I ran into Evan Rail, who was waiting for other people to have lunch with at the same place.
Who is Tim Webb? Perhaps some of you are asking. He is the author of, among other books, The Good Beer Guide - Belgium. In other words, a guy who knows the Belgian beer landscape and industry like few others.
After the meal I had a chat with him. There were two things that I wanted to have confirmed about the Belgian beers and who better than Tim to look for an answer.
They are somehow related, one was something that I had long suspected: many, if not most, Belgian small brewers survive thanks to exports and/or beer tourism - which is basically the same; the other thing was something I had once heard: 80% of the beer sold in Belgium is of the Jupiler and Stella kind. Both were confirmed.
Many times I have read and heard that Belgium (and the Belgians) are the paramount of beer culture and yet, the average Belgian drinker isn't too different to the average drinker from Czech, Spain, Slovakia, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Denmark and pretty much every other country, in the sense that they all drink essentially the same thing, brands of mass produced (usually) pale lager.
This made me muse a bit on the very concept of "Beer Culture". What or who defines the beer culture of a given country? Is it the average consumer or that one with more "sophisticated", open-minded or whatever tastes, who is actually part of a minority?
To me, it's the former, the average consumer, and the beer culture of each country is defined mostly by the way in which the beverage is consumed. The tastes or the "counterculture" of that minority might penetrate the mainstream to some extent or another, but they become more than a fringe (and that is why I don't quite get all this "craft beer revolution" thing, but that's another topic).
So, if a beer culture is defined not so much by what is drunk, but by how (and where) it is drunk, this can be changing as well.
In many countries, beer consumption has been in decline for several years. Some try to associate this to the growth of alternative (or if you want, "craft") breweries. I believe that these two things are hardly related. People aren't drinking less but better, they are drinking less, period.
For example, here in the Czech Republic for the first time in history sales of bottled beer have surpassed the sales of draught beer. This is due to several factors, some are economic, others are demographic (I believe it is the latter that carry the more weight, at least in the long term), but whatever they are, the reality is that habits are changing. Does this mean that Czech beer culture (and other countries') is changing, too? To find an answer to that I'm afraid we will have to wait a few years. In the meantime, I'll go to the fridge for a bottle of Svijany, I would love to go to a hospoda for pivo, but there isn't any where I live.
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