20 Feb 2013

Precarious balance

Yesterday, as I drank the Argentinean beer Grosa (a present from my good friend Guerrillero Culinario), I was reminded of what Boak and Bailey asked the other day about balance.

Unfortunately, this word is often associated with "boring". Though there are indeed many balanced beers that are boring, the truth is that many unbalanced beers can be boring, too. I'm speaking about those that explode at first sip and then run out of script (often they are of the sort that I call "tasting beers").

But a balanced beer can also be very interesting, and even fun to drink, specially when that balance is on the precarious side. This is the example of Grosa, a beer aged in wine casks, brewed by Jerome, in collaboration with Argentine music legend, Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA winner, and part-time winemaker Gustavo Santaolalla.
At first, all the bits that make a Grosa's flavour seem to go into the mouth stumbling and pushing each other. It takes them a moment to realise that they should be working together, instead of competing. But still, each sip gives the impression that the beer will fall apart, but it always manages to keep the balance. Almost like an acrobat with a pint too many. The result, besides reminding me of +Malta Cuvée (but with more muscle), is a beer with an incredible drinkability for something so complex and strong (9%ABV).

Precarious balance, but balance nonetheless = interesting and fun beer. There should be more brewers willing to apply this formula.

Na Zdraví!

PD: Grosa could have been a very good example for the other day's post on value. According to Guerrillero, it seems that Santaolalla's fame brings the price higher than the beer is actually worth.

18 Feb 2013

Progress Report

Things have been slow around here lately, partly because of work, and life in general, and partly because of the book I'm writing with Alan.

Although we haven't been able to dedicate as much time and energy  as we would have liked to this, still unnamed, creature, it has already grown to a respectable 12000 words. Our goal is to make it to 30000, after which we will have to start with the tedious work of editing, adding footnotes, reviewing our opinions (one of the nice things about writing something like this is that your ideas can change as you work and see some things from a different angle), etc.

Thus far, the topics that have been, or are being, discussed are: styles, health, tasting, language, micro marketing, extreme and experimental beers, collaborations. In the pipeline are value/price, myths, beer writing and blogs, evangelism, industrial vs craft and likely some more.

The book has already taken to what appears to be a neighbourhood hospoda, Alan's kitchen, a tavern in 80's Canada, a Spanish bar, a Bavarian beer garden, a sensory isolation chamber, an abandoned ship, an examination room (much to my chagrin) and a lecture hall. Among all this we have met someone who might or might have not been a younger version of Alan's wife, and an irritated and vehement Ron Pattinson. God knows where else we'll be and who else we'll come across.

Neither we know when the whole thing we'll be ready. What we are really sure of, though, is that we are having a lot of fun writing this.

So, that's it, I must get back to work.

Na Zdraví!

15 Feb 2013

Valuable value

The other day, when I learnt about a new beer from a very famous British brewery, I started thinking, once again, about the concepts of value and price/quality. 2D2dspuma beat me to the punch, and in great manner, but I still wanted to talk about it but from a slightly different perspective.

The beer in question has been aged 4 years in whisky casks. Though 4 years wouldn't have raised any eyebrows in the past, nowadays it is something very much out of the ordinary (with the probable exception of some Lambics), and this alone is enough to make this beer quite interesting, at least on paper. Shame about the price, though; roughly, the equivalent of 750CZK for a 330ml bottle. Pfff!

As I've already said several times, I've got no issue with brewers pricing their product in any way they see fit. It's their business decision and nobody is under any obligation to buy that product. That's why I also believe that it is unfair to criticise a beer for its price if you haven't drunk it yet. But, it is still possible to evaluate, in a fair and reasonable way, the price/quality relationship this beer offers without the need of buying anything.

In these times, when the disposable income of many of us is not what it used to be, we become (or should become) more careful with the money we spend on luxury goods. We understand that every money that we spend on one is money we will not have for something else. And this is exactly the principle I want to use. What else can I buy for the price of this particular beer?

Give or take a coin, today in Prague I could buy the following beers, for example:
  • 4 750ml bottles of stuff from De Ranke, Dupont, Chouffe or other similar Belgians
  • 6 500ml bottles of Fuller's Vintage Ale
  • 13 500ml bottles of Schlenkerla Urbock or Eiche, o an assortment of German bocks
  • 13 500ml bottles of Gypsy Porter
  • 2-3 cases of 20 500ml bottles of almost any Czech regional beer, plus a few loose bottles on top
  • a combination of all the above
All of that, and more, for the same it would cost me to buy one 330ml bottle, if it was available here, at that price. In other words, I wouldn't be only buying unquestionable quality, but also quantity and, on top that, certainty.

I have enough reason to believe that this very special beer is very good, but I can't be certain of that until I drink it. The beers I mention above win because I know all of them, I've liked them and I will like them again. There's no competition possible.

Each person measures the value of purchased goods in a different way. To some, the very opportunity of experiencing a beer that has been aged 4 years in whisky casks is more than enough to justify the price. Fair enough. Not me, though.

However good this can turn out to be, it will be only one experience and 750CZK on that single bottle of beer, that single sensory experience is not the most sensible thing to do, not when I could spend that money (or a lot less, actually) on multiple experiences that can be enjoyed for a longer time, knowing full well that I will end up happy and satisfied with each.

Just like 2D2dspuma were saying at the end of their post, there isn't a more realistic formula to assess value.

Na Zdraví!

PS: The beer I talk about is BrewDog's Tokio Rising Sun. It's not my intention to critisise the beer, the brewery or their pricing policies. It was used just as an example, and it can applied to any expensive beer available today.

11 Feb 2013

Czech Beers at BBF

There's less than a month left to go for the second edition of Barcelona Beer Festival, to which I had the chance, and the pleasure, to make a small contribution.

The organisers had asked me, already for last year's edition, to help them get Czech beers. It was too close to the date and I wasn't able to arrange anything with anyone. This year, we had more time and already in summer I spoke with Honza Šuráň, Chairman of the Czech Microbrewers' Association, and Milan Starec, one of the owners of Černokostelecký Pivovar, and I put them in contact with Miker Ruis, one of the people behind the event, so they could agree on whatever that needed to be agreed on.

The result is this list of beer:
Needeless to say, I'm really happy to see that Gypsy Porter, the beer I made happen (which, by the way, was fucktastic!), will be there. It's a pity that I want' be able to travel with it. Anyway, regarding the rest, Kocour goes perhaps with their best stuff. The ones from Pivo Dům are not among my favourite and I would have liked if Břevnov were taking their Světlý Ležák, which is so unique, tough, both Cisařský Ležák (as I prefer to call it) and the IPA are pretty, pretty fine brews, too.

So, I hope that those fortunate enough to assist will have a great time.

Na Zdraví!

1 Feb 2013

Friday Musings

"Price should stop being an element to compare beers"
This comment (followed by "Is there any competition where the price is considered when evaluating the product") could be considered naive, silly, or worse, if it wasn't for a small detail, it was made by Alex Padró, the owner of a brewery. It reminds me a bit to the quote "Life is too short to drink cheap beer that closes the "I'm a Craft Beer Drinker" video, where several people who make a living out of beer can be seen.

Just like I've said several times, I've got no with people like Padró setting the prices they see fit for their product or sevices. In fact, I think it's their inalienable right (especially if we are speaking about a leisure and luxury product like beer). Neither do I have much of a problem with their trying to convince me that the price, however high, is fair and reasonable for those product or services, as long they do it in an honest way, respecting the intelligence of the consumer, which is not the case with either Padró's comment or the quote in the video.

Regardless of the the ball on nonsense some of his comments are, I would never think of considering Padró as an idiot, quite the opposite. And yet, he is telling us that we should forget what we have paid when we are evaluating a beer, that the price/quality ratio should be of no importance.

Is he taking the piss?

The perception of value is something that will vary according to a number of factors, but the price/quality ratio will always carry much of the weight. Even 2D2dspuma, in their great initiative to support local producers takes it into account when they say "With comparable price/quality, better local".

The thing is that there are people who buy all this bollocks. They are the ones who see this fantastic creature called "Craft Beer" in an overly romantic way (have a look at what this person says here, to see an example), almost as if it belonged to a different reality where the natural laws of the market and the economy do not, and should not, apply. These is the people who have invested one part of the industry with an almost religious aura, believing they are part of some movement.

Regardless of whether it is as a result of true conviction or the purest cynicism, the fact is that not few of the people on the other side of the counter have been perpetuating all this mythology for quite some time. An who can blame them? It's a brilliant tale, one that has made their marketing a lot easier and also served as an excuse in more than one occasion. Maybe that is why some will get a bit upset (in SP) when that tale is questioned and its inconsistencies pointed at. Why would it be, I wonder.

Na Zdraví!