30 Dec 2012

Some loose (and recicled) thoughts for the end of the year


If you are a homebrewer who's planning to go commercial in 2013, before you brew your first batch, leave the homebrewer at home. Making beer won't be your hobby anymore, it'll be your job.

When I see brewers saying that they make the beers they would like to drink I ask myself, shouldn't they make the beers I would like to drink?

If expermimental refers to a product that is still being developed, shouldn't experimental beers be cheaper than finished ones?

Brewers need to have more trust in their products. Instead of inviting us to taste their beers, they should invite us to drink them.

Someone who prefers to spend 10€ on a bottle of a beer they don't know instead of spending the same money on three bottles of a beer they already know and like, has a very serious problem.

You should always doubt the judgment of someone who praises (and reviews) a beer they drank in a shot size as part of a session that included another ten.

It'd be nice to see more beer reviews that give less importance to tasting notes and more to sensations.

Someone who uses the BJCP style guidelines as a parameter to evaluate a beer, shows they understand little about the BJCP, styles and beer.

Only a BJCP certified judge at a competition can evaluate a beer as if they were a BJCP certified judge at a competition. The rest should do it according to the only three realistic categories of beer "I like it", "I don't like it" and "I don't quite like it, but don't quite mind drinking it".

In the real world, it is the style that should fit the beer and not the beer fit the style.

Every day I find it harder to understand the fascination with hop bombs. Most tend to be as complex, subtle and interesting as one of my morning farts, but even louder.

If you've any more beer clichés to add, you know what to do.

Happy new year!

Na Zdraví!

22 Dec 2012

And it's gone

For all practical purposes, 2012 is finished and therefore, it is time to put together the almost mandatory balance.

This has been the most successful year of my still infant career as a beer writer. I've collaborated with The Beer Connoisseur, my reviews continued to be published in Pivo, Bier & Ale. The other day, after more than a year, I sent an article to the Spanish mag. Bar&Beer and at the beginning of the year, The Prague Post asked me to write a regular beer blog for them, which I really enjoyed doing. As if that wasn't enough, I was also offered to take part in a pretty important project that will see the light some time next year; it was a true honour to have been even considered for it and I want to thank all those who helped me put together my assignment. All of this has been (or will eventually be) paid, it's really gratifying to be able to make some money out of a hobby.

I wasn't able to travel abroad (in fact, I had to refuse a couple of invitations, life sucks sometimes), but that was more than made up by the great time I had and the great people I met in Kostelec and by having been able to make beer happen at Kocour. And what a beer it turned out to be, Gypsy Porter! It has been such a success that Pivovar Kocour have decided to add it to their regular line up.

As for last year's best. Here it goes.

Pub of the year (that is not called Zlý Časy)

Bar na Palmě (see review). It's got a very special charm and the people who run it are very committed to doing things they way they should be done.

Pivovarská Restaurace (Únětice). When it opened after the renovations, it was even nice than before. The food is very good and for us, it's a great place to spend some family time.

Zájezdní Hostinec (Kostelec). Because it's really, really great.

Honorary mentions for Nota Bene and Pivo a Párek, they are not pubs proper, but both in their own way are brilliant and have more in common than it would appear at first sight.

Minimalist pubs

Kaaba, in Lucemburská. Not a pub, a café, but this is my blog and I love going there for a pint, it's inspiring.

U Černého Vola, because it proves better than any other perhaps that it's not the beer what makes a pub great.

Breweries

Once again, Únětické Pivovar, for reasons that I've already made clear.

Břevnovksý Klášterní Pivovar, because all of their beers are very good, and the brewery itself couldn't be at a better place.


Pivovar Nomád. It could be said it is the first of its kind in these lands and it is very possible that they've opened a new era in Czech micro brewing (and because their beers are also fantastic, which is the most important thing).

Domestic beers. 

Benediktín světlý ležák. It's brewed basically like any other beer of its kind, but the hops come from a 70 year old hopyard and the difference is incredible.

Karel, from Nomád. You don't need to bring hops from anywhere to make a pretty kick-ass IPA.

But the best of all, and fuck the conflict of interest here, is Gypsy Porter. It's just brilliant.

Imported beers

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, what can I say? It tastes as if someone had bottled this beauty by Mozart and Fuller's Past Masters, two beers that are wonderful in more ways than one.

Blogs

English: Boak&Bailey, mainly because their mapping of the history of the English beer scene from the postwar onwards. Called to the Bar, because, besides being a top bloke, Adrian writes in a way I wish I could someday manage.

Czech: Pivníci, I really like their style, they are almost like the Czech version of B&B, in their early years.

Spanish: 2d2dspuma is still the most incisive and fun to read, even though they speak from the other side of the counter, but I was pleasantly surprised by El Jardín del Lúpulo, because not only it is the least onanist of the lot, but it is one of the few that don't mind naming and shaming when it's deserved.

As for plans and wishes for 2013. Nothing yet, really. There are a couple of things that look promising, but I won't say anything until they are more certain. What I do hope for next year is to be able to start work on the second edition of my book.

So that's basically it. There still might be another post before the end of the calendar. In the meantime, have a great time however it is that you decide to spend these holidays.

Na Zdraví!

17 Dec 2012

In Praise of Science


The other day, when I finished writing the phrase "...anyone with a basic knowledge in brewing science..", I had to stop for a second. Suddenly I started to wonder why I had used the word science and was reminded of what I had written elsewhere, when discussing bits of brewing history, about the adoption of a more scientific approach to beer making. I also recalled much of what I read in "Brew Like a Monk", but mostly about this excellent interview Kristen England gave to Fuggled. To Al's first question, how did you get into brewing as a career? Kristen answers, "...It’s another form of science which got me hooked…science begets science...".

Before getting to write this, I asked my followers in Facebook what they thought about it, and after a pretty interesting discussion, and let my mind mind chew on it a bit, I reached the conclusion that beer making isn't an art, is an industry and there's nothing really artistic in it.

Before spewing your wrath, take a deep breath and let me explain myself (and after that, if you still feel like it, you are free to curse and swear all you want).

A work of art doesn't need to have any purpose, functional or practical, it's only a form of creative expression. It isn't limited by laws or norms, either. A beer, on the other hand, is created and brewed with a sole real purpose, to be consumed, imbibed. Unlike art, a beer must please, otherwise it fails. its success, therefore, it's determined mostly by external factors.

It's a lot harder to determine if art is successful or not. At a modern art exhibition I was once there was a piece that consisted on half a ping-pong table, on which there was a couple of blue dreadlocks (belonging to the author, I was told), all under a plastc dome. Without knowing anything about the author and what drove him into creating that, I could hardly judge his work beyond the purely aesthetic, but art doesn't necessarily have to be pretty. The author could tell me "you philistine! Can't you see this represents my struggle to become a better snooker player", or something like that, and he would be right, I don't understand it and the failure would be more on my side than his. But if I drink a beer and I don't like it, its author can explain me all he wants, but nothing will change, the beer will have failed.

This is because, basically, any form of expression can be considered art if its author so believes. If I pulled the following words out of my ass: "Morning on the tram / Fat lady sneezes / Wind blows on stilettos / Sculpted nails in coloured claws / A fart scares them", nobody could tell me this isn't a poem, if I so believed. A crappy poem perhaps, but a poem nonetheless; and if I believe it is a great poem (and it fucking is!) there's nobody who would be able to convince me otherwise and, just for having been spawned, this poem would not have failed.

Beer, on the other hand, is something that is quite clearly defined. I can't ferment a blend of corn flakes, lettuce and mint and call it "avant garde beer", because regardless of the resulting quality, it's not going to be beer! But even if I stay within the practices and ingredients that do define beer, I will still be limited. I could add the word "conundrum" anywhere in my poem, and it'd still be a poem, but there are some ingredients and processes I can't use to make beer, not because of any reinheitsgebotist nonsense, but because chemistry won't allow it.

But there are still many people who insist that there is art in beer making because, after all, it's a creative activity. I believe this to be rather overrated, aside from the creation of new recipes, beer making is mostly about replicating those recipes, following a series of specific processes. But even if we didn't argue about it, the fact is that creativity doesn't automatically mean art.

One of the FB commentators the other day said he was "fed up with the false dychotomy between science and creativity". According to him, a good scientist also needs to be creative, and I couldn't agree more! Science needs a good deal of creative thinking when it comes to solving problems. Just like an artist, a scientist can also draw inspiration from their surroundings because they see things differently than the average folk. The legend of Newton and the apple is a good example of that.

But back to the recipe, the only thing that is 100% creative in craft of beer making. If we think about it, a recipe is nothing but a formula. You choose the right components and the right mechanisms to reach a more or less clear result (or just to experiment). Since we aren't talking about a medicine or the design for a satellite; the scientist has a broader playing field, but they will always be limited by the laws of nature.

The problem, I reckon, has to do with image. "Science" and "scientist" make us think about laboratories and boring, lab coat wearing people who have spent much of their lives studying books almost incomprehensible for most of us. But reality is not like that! During the presentation of Gypsy Porter, Gazza was discussing why he had chosen Carafa Spezial no. 1 over no. 3, or something like that, and that is also science! At more intuitive, or maybe, empirical level; anyone who knows how to cook will know what I'm talking about. You don't need to have studied to know how long and at what temperature you need to put a 2kg chicken in the oven to get a nice dinner.

Another false dichotomy is that between science and romance. Brewers often tell us about their dreams, vision and passion for beer, and other stories. But aren't there people who got into science not because they were after fame and fortune, but because they wanted to follow the steps of someone they admired, try to find the answers to some big questions or even make this a better world to live? (Oh, yeah. And Indiana Jones, he's no musician or sculptor, he's a motherfucking archaeologist!)

In short, a great beer isn't a work of art. It's the result of dedication, skill, patience, experience, knowledge, will to improve, and the respect and pride in one's labour, and of science. It's about time that those brewers who want to make us believe they are artists, start trying to convince us they are scientists, that they realise they don't work in an atelier, but a factory that makes the same product the macros make, beer.

But, and as I say above, art is defined by the artist, and if believing they are artists is what motivates those brewers to get out of bed in the morning to sterilise bottles, fix pumps and pay the bills, who am I to complain? Just bear in mind that nowadays, not much more than a bit of charisma and a pretty smile are enough for any talentless twat to be celebrated as an artist. A scientist, on the other hand, still needs to show something concrete, and few things are more concrete than a well made beer.

Na Zdraví!

14 Dec 2012

Friday Morning Musings


I'm don't want to get too deep into the shitstorm unleashed by the statement of the US Brewers Association, only that I subscribe to pretty much everything Alan says here.

Anyway, though the debate is of little concern to me, a beer drinker living in the Czech Republic, it could be said that it is part of a wider issue. We often hear calls (often by interested parties, it should be said) to support local/small/independent breweries because their being local/small/independent makes them almost automatically better than those that are global/big/corporate and I'm frankly tired of that nonsense.

There are a number of reasons why I like (and believe is important) to support small businesses, whatever they produce. They are pretty obvious, so I'm not going to specify, but all of them, without exception are subordinated to the value they can give me in exchange for my money.

When it comes to beer, "value" to me means the balance between price-quality-availability. If a brewery is not able to deliver that value, I won't care about its size, onwership structure or address, or even how nice their owners are, I will take my business somewhere else, if that somewhere else happens to lead me to a multinational company, well, so be it. I won't go without beer if I fancy one. Don't forget, either, we are not speaking about long term investments, bonds issued by countries deep in debt or any other shit like that. We are speaking about something you buy, not because you really need it, but because you want to get intoxicated, for fuck's sakes! (Besides, macro brewers aren't that evil, after all)

But let's be honest, do you know all the people behind your favourite beers? Have you spoken to them? Have you shared a pint with them? So how can you be certain about their ethics, they long term strategies, their business practices? How can you be certain that if these people were in a position similar to [insert name of your most reviled macro brewer] they wouldn't act the same way or even worse? Moreover, how local can they claim to be when most of their ingredients are imported? And aren't pubs that sell macro brands also small, independent, local businesses?

And please, do yourself a favour, do not bring any idiotic anti-capitalist rants here, not when you have your fridge/cupboards/cellar full of stuff made by a some small, independent companies from who knows where.

Na Zdraví!

10 Dec 2012

Why I go back


I walk in, I greet, I seat. I get my fix, I drink. I listen to the music, to the talk. I walk into the talk. I talk, and I drink and I laugh, loud. And I drink, and I talk.

Štamgast M says and gives something to the owner. Something I don't catch because I'm drinking my drink and talking my talk.

The music changes. Štamgast M looks at me with a half smile. Do I know the tune? Of course I do! Don't Fucking Cry For Me Argentina! How could I not!

I laugh. That tear that wanted to roll down thinks it better. It'd look silly.

Štamgast F now takes the piss. Again. He knows well how much piss he can take. He knows well how much piss he'll get back.

And I drink. And I listen. And I talk. And I laugh. And, by the way, I'm Štamgast P. And I'm Max. Ahoj.

And fuck the world! One more it is! Reality calls. Reality can wait a bit longer. It always has.

It was the beer that first brought me here. It's not the beer that keeps me coming back.

Na Zdraví!

9 Dec 2012

Evolucionary explanation


I will try to shed light on a semantic conflict that has arisen from the other day's topic.

There are people who claim that "evolution" is the same as "chage", period. A comment in the Spanish version, for example, said that "to evolve is to change, but not necessarily for the better, it can also be for the worse".


I believe that, at least in this context, this interpretation is wrong. The filtrophobe discourse implies that only unfiltered and unpasteurised beers will "evolve" because they are "alive" and that beers that have been filtered and pasteurised can not evolve because they are "dead".

However, the quality of "dead" beers is also affected by (among other things) time. A Pilsner Urquell, a Guinness, a Paulaner, a Corona, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale consumed in Prague, Madrid, London, Moscow or Toronto will not be the same beer that left the factory God knows how long ago. It will have changed, but filtrophobes are likely to deny that this change has been an evolution.

According to this premise, and assuming the filtrophobe discourse is consistent, the only possible interpretation for "evolution", at least in this context, is "improvement".

Of course, "improvement" can also be a very subjective thing, as shown by the "Westmalle Trippel experience" and the resulting divergent evaluations of me and my wife. In other words, what is "better" for someone, might not be so for someone else, and there is no lab analysis that can ever reconcile both views.

The best way to sort this out, in my opinion, would be to ask the brewer. If they are a proper professional, they would be able to tell us with a lot of certainty what is the moment when their product is at its best and, since they are most likely the person that knows the beer better than anyone, their opinion will be the one to carry the most weight and should be the one used as a foundation to bring some objectivity to the debate.

Maybe I'm generalising, but I'd say that if we did a poll among producers of moderate to low ABV %, most of them would tell us that the best moment to drink those beers is as fresh as possible.

As for the other beers, those that could be said will improve with time, just as I said the other day, they will also reach a peak in their development and after that, their quality will begin to wane. You can see a great example in this interview Evan Rail did a few years ago with Jean-Pierre Van der Roy.

Na Zdraví!

7 Dec 2012

This week in the Prague Post

With a bit of reluctance, I attended a PR event organised by Heineken CZ and I ended up pleasantly surprised.

You can read it here.

Na Zdraví!

5 Dec 2012

Evolutionary bollocks


The other day, after a great post by 2D2dspuma about the need to speak publicly about the bad stuff, Alex Padró came up, once again, with the usual bollocks that unfiltered beer will evolve because it's alive. Later, and in response to my comment on the matter one Guillem Laporta said the following:
Unfiltered beers will CERTAINLY EVOLVE (just like wines) and anyone with a notion about life forms will know that. The beer we are talking about is alive because it has yeast that keeps on working, and the caps and corks will allow the redox process that obviously make them evolve. The best by date means that after a date the evolution of this beer will be such that it will not be like the beer you wanted to drink when you bought it... Well, it seems rather obvious to go on, but someone should say which lapidary phrases aren't correct."
(Before continuing, I should make a couple of things clear. First, the most commonly accepted meaning of "evolution" is "improvement". Second, it is my understanding that, biologically speaking, it is species that evolve and not individuals, though it's true this might be a question of semantics).

Guillem suggests that I don't know much about life forms, but at the same time, he seems to forget one of the basic biological principles, the life cycle. Everything has it, even beers.

Many ancient cultures symbolised the cycle of life with the phases of the moon and (if we forget for a moment the principle of Nature's constant regeneration also symbolised by our satellite) we could also say that beers have a crescent, full and waning phases. How long they will last, it will depend on the beer. It some cases it can be years or decades, but every beer, regardless of how it was made, will eventually start to wane.

The thing here is that we aren't speaking about beers that have been specially made to have a long life, but about "unfiltered beers" in general (it should be also noted that at no point any sort of further conditioning is mentioned in this discussion), which in most cases are beers of moderate ABV and (I'm almost sure) relatively high levels of attenuation.

What are the "evolutionary" possibilities of these beers? Quite small, I'd say (and here I'm not taking into consideration the conditions in which these beers are transported, handled and stored before reaching the consumers, let alone what they do with them). Czech lagers (and actually, all lagers) reach their best condition the moment the secondary fermentation, or lagering, has finished. Past this point, the quality of the beer will start to decline more or less rapidly, depending on several factors. That's the reason why the breweries that commercialise the filtered and unfiltered versions of their beers will always assign the later a much shorter shelf life (we are speaking about days vs. months) and will never sell them through third party distributors, and often only in kegs.

This is, once gain, due to the nature of life forms, in this case, the yeast. As every living organism, saccharomyces cerevisiae, in all its shapes and colours, needs to feed in order to survive. When the food runs out, or it's not enough to support all the population, our microscopic friends start to die and anyone with a basic knowledge in brewing science will know what the consequences of this eventually are.

In other words, it's very possible that by the time an unfiltered beer with moderate ABV reaches our glasses, the zenith of its development (or evolution, if you want) has been already left behind. And if we now do consider the conditions in which these beers are transported, handled and stored, which are often far from the ideal, we shouldn't be surprised then to find ourselves with a beer that is much closer to their New Moon than their Full Moon.

But well, science, logic or facts have never been much of a hurdle for those determined to spread the delusions, lies and bollocks that best fit their interests.

Na Zdraví!

PS: I think Guillem is also wrong about the thing that wines also evolve, two examples should be enough as proof, Don Simón in Tetra-Pack and Beaujolais.

PS2: Unfiltered beers are very much alive, indeed. Now, that potato I found the other day in a dark corner, soft and with 10cm long roots might have been bursting with life, but I doubt it would have been very useful for a bramborák...