10 Feb 2012

Is Joe right?

Martyn Cornell left history aside for a bit to give his two pennies on this "craft beer" thing, a debate that seems will never get exhausted. As expected, the post has generated a sizable number of comments but there was one that caught my attention well above the rest. There, Joe, a.k.a. Thirsty Pilgrim, says:
"I hear beery types say a lot that they don’t care who makes the beer, they only care about the quality of what’s in the glass. Bullshit, I say. We all have values and they affect how much we enjoy something. (...) I can enjoy a beer more if I know where it came from, if I know its story, if I know who made it, and yes — even if it came from a small place instead of a big one. Naturally, it helps if it doesn't taste like piss."
I confess to being one of those beery types that says that bullshit. I don't say it as pose, but as a belief. However, believing is not the same as knowing and when presented with a reasonable argument I don't have a problem with my beliefs being challenged, and Joe's is a reasonable argument.

On more than one occasion I've seen "beery types" say the don't like lager/pils. Nothing wrong with that, but when asked, they will tell you that they've never been to Central Europe, the birthplace of these beers. They know lager/pils from, at best, quality beers from Germany and the Czech Republic that make it to their shores or something that is locally produced. But most of the times, that is not quite enough to understand a beer.

Not long ago I said that in order to understand a beer, ideally, you should drink it as close to its source as possible, immersed in the beer's own culture. It's something like the difference between seeing a lion in a zoo and seeing it frolicking in the African Savannah. The former can be fun and interesting, but it can't compare to the experience of seeing that animal in its natural environment, and for lager/pils the natural environment is the hospoda or the bierstübe, all the rest is not much more than a beer zoo.

This goes beyond the issue of freshness or the better care these beers will sure have in those places, it goes even beyond the places' authentic atmosphere. It's about the culture in which the beers were born and evolved, and the culture is part of the beer's story, as are the where, how, why and by whom they are brewed.

In other words, knowing the story of a beer (the true story, not a marketing fantasy) will help you understand the beer and understanding a beer can help you enjoy it better. In conclusion, Joe is quite right.

And now that I think of it, this is another reason why brewers should be more open and honest about their beers. What we have in the glass is still the only thing that really matters, but there are many factors that can affect our relationship with it.

Na Zdraví!

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3 comments:

  1. That should probably extend to american brewers attempting british styles without having first experienced the originals in their natural habitat and ratebeerians rating up american beers over the continental originals

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  2. In UK and in some quarters Craft brewers have a bad name but to my mind its nonsence. All brewers no matter what they brew have a place its up to individuals to decide which is their personal preference.

    Mine is cask beer within the UK in germany its locally brewed beer in Prague again the same.

    But the beer must be brewed, served and consumed in top quality. There are poor brewereries and poor bars that do a diservice to us the consumer

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  3. Cheers Max! I'm ashamed that I missed this post until now. (I've had recent burst of productivity that has coincided, not coincidentally, with a proportionate drop in blog writing and reading. For better or worse.)

    The quality of what's in the glass is paramount, but we do ourselves a disservice if we underestimate the importance of context and its ability to affect our pleasure. We are not robots. But I've also got to avoid thrashing a straw man here... And there is a further danger of rationalizing the nonsense of those who claim to only like craft beer, or small breweries, etc.

    Context is not all powerful, but neither are we.

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