The End Of The Year: A Time To Express Less Cynical Thoughts…

With fire-colored leaves gently falling from the sky and intensely fresh and cooling breezes cascading, autumn is the season many people secretly long to enjoy. Despite the inevitable and unavoidable promise of a chilly future, the atmospheric changes of scenery often more than make up for what follows. It also doesn’t hurt that the changing landscape is accompanied by a much anticipated bevy of seasonal beers, from soul-soothing Octoberfests to insanely popular Pumpkin ales.

As I have been accused from time to time of being too critical of the craft beer world, I thought, at this contemplative time of the year, that I’d take a few moments and reflect upon some of the things I am thankful for when it comes to the beer world. From modest, ambitious, and even naïve origins, the beer industry has seen incredible changes in the short life-span of better beer. And we can never take for granted the bounty of incredible flavors, aromas, and textures that talented and passionate professionals, everyone involved from grain to glass, have made available to us.

I am most thankful for simplicity. In an era of bigness, from hops to barrels and alcohol, the surprising complexity of what appear the most simple keeps me coming back for more. Whether it be single hop or malt beers, these singularly expressive offerings acutely capture the essence of their carefully chosen ingredients, demonstrating a clear beauty that can often be lost in more complicated yet less complex attempts.

I was also very pleased to see craft brewers venturing into the world of lager beer. Often a good barometer of what is happening in the industry as a large, this year’s Great American Beer Festival played host to a sizable increase in German and Czech-style pilsener beers. While plenty of Double IPA’s filled the floor, strongly hopped yet artfully crafted pilseners matched their presence. It’s a guilty pleasure to watch craft brewers branch out from the alemonopoly and extend an olive branch to this long-neglected wing of the beer family. I hope to see these creative folks draw greater inspiration from many of the less-represented lager styles at next year’s festival. Maybe craft beer drinkers will someday respond in kind and end lager discrimination forever.

Thanks should also be given to the enterprising craft brewers who took a giant risk in putting their flavorful offerings into the once-dreaded coffin of good taste that was the aluminum can. Starting slowly with a handful of breweries across the country, from the New England Brewing Company to the 21st Amendment, with Oskar Blues and others in-between, this was a sizable gamble that paid off big. An excellent receptacle for protecting delicate craft beer, cans have long stood as an icon of mega-beer. By donning the uniform of big beer, craft brewers have shifted the paradigm and demonstrated that great beer can come in many forms.

After more than two decades of brewing top-notch craft beer, I am also pleased that the Boston Beer Company doesn’t just seem content to brew hundreds of thousands of barrels of its flagship Samuel Adams Boston Lager and popular summer seasonals, such as its Summer Ale. Despite its success and growth, Boston Beer has never lost the urge and passion to innovate and the brewery continues to engage in an eclectic assortment of projects that push the brewing envelope, perhaps long after they became a financially good idea to do so.

And finally, like Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family praying for Old Mister Scrooge, I wish the best for the big brewers, who continue to brew and release new beers, even with their varying degrees of success. It is a testament to the growing strength of the craft beer industry that these breweries have been driven to improve the flavor profiles of their products, even if many beer enthusiasts continue to dislike their efforts. But with the benefit of places like the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field and the AC Golden Brewing Company, we can see glimpses of how different the future might really be for beer.

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Draft Magazine Surveys The World, Reports The News, Calls Everyone ‘Massive’ Drunks…

I occasionally review other blogs (usually through the excellent aggregator at Real Simple Beer Syndication) so it was with a light chuckle that I came upon these two news updates from Draft Magazine’s online news blog.

The first post, which informed readers that brewer and pub owner JD Wetherspoon would be offering its customers pints of Greene King Ruddles for the cut-rate price of 99p, also noted the criticism of this cheap drinking campaign.

Some of the country’s citizens are worried the sale, which runs from January 4th through the 19th, will encourage binge drinking, a massive problem in the UK.

A short while later, Draft also reported on the allegation a Russian doctor has made suggesting that the country’s largest breweries are adding “pure alcohol” to their beers to speed up fermentation. Of this, Draft reported:

Russia, which has a massive drinking problem (citizens drink 18 liters of pure alcohol per year), is raising taxes — profiting Carlsberg — in an attempt to curb alcoholism. This latest news is only the tip of the alcohol-industry corruption iceberg.

Now, I’m only noting the humor in casting such flat aspersions at entire nations in back-to-back posts. I’m otherwise putting aside the issues of how these parties define binge drinking, where such alcohol abuse stats come from, whether this particular Russian doctor has any objective basis for his serious claims against some well-known international brewers, whether the underlying numbers regarding Russian alcohol consumption are actually correct (WHO numbers suggest this would be a pretty substantial jump–nearly two-fold from recent years and that the per capita alcohol consumption rate of Russians, at least as recently as 2004, was substantially less than that of Germans, Czechs, Danes, Spaniards, and the Irish, just to name a few European neighbors), and the little unsubstantiated editorial tidbit dropped at the end…

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Roger Protz Slams BrewDog or Just Steps In It, Depending Upon Your View…

In a quick piece on his blog, British beer writer Roger Protz takes a quick smack at BrewDog’s recent release of its Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a beer it claims to be 32-percent alcohol. In it, Protz chides:

James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, said the beer was “completely pushing the boundaries”. Indeed, and it’s also pushing beyond breaking point what sensible beer writers and connoisseurs will take from this bunch of ego-maniacs. Those of us who attempt to paint an image of beer as a fine drink enjoyed in moderation by sensible people have the ground cut from beneath our feet by BrewDog, which just plays in to the hands of the yellow press, ever anxious to give beer a bad name.

I’ve also recently chimed in with thoughts on BrewDog’s release. Protz is taking a bit of a beating in his comments section, whether deserved or not (he appears to get a few of the facts wrong about the beer in his short post).

Putting this aside, Protz inadvertently stumbles into a pretty interesting existential question about beer. Can a beer that is brewed with something other than brewer’s yeast really be considered beer?

Naturally, the wild buckeroos in Fraserburgh claim this is the world’s strongest beer, even though technically it’s not beer at all, as brewer’s yeast cannot work beyond a strength of 12 or 13 degrees. Clearly the new product, called Tactical Nuclear Penguin (what were you smoking last night, chaps?), was finished with a wine or champagne yeast.

Off the cuff, I’d say he is off-base here but I can’t say I’ve given the subject that much thought. Part of me wishes that Protz’s view be considered the correct one on this point as it would substantially undermine a lot of the extreme beer ridiculousness that strikes me as decidedly unclever. I’d be interested in what others think on the subject.

Aside from the pure humour in seeing the generational divide here between the upstart young extreme brewers and the old-timey CAMRA set and the toughness of his words, I found this bit on Protz himself a bit entertaining this late work day.

Roger is the world’s foremost beer writer and taster.

Not “one of” or offered with any other modifier, just foremost. Even with his impressive CV, it’s a pretty bold claim. And foremost taster? I’m not sure I even know what that means. Some food for thought I suppose.

A student of personal histories, I’ve also always been partial to this bit of Protz’s early history, from storied source Wikipedia:

He joined the Labour Party Young Socialists and became editor of its newspaper, New Advance. While remaining in the Labour Party, he joined the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League (SLL). In 1961, he resigned from New Advance to become the editor of the SLL’s youth newspaper, Keep Left. He was sacked from that, he says, for being too left-wing.

Within a few years, he moved to the rival Revolutionary Socialist League, where in 1964 he became the founding editor of Militant. After leaving the RSL, he joined the International Socialists where in 1969 he became the editor of Socialist Worker. He was expelled from the editor’s role in 1974, and soon afterwards from the party, going on to found the Workers League.

UPDATE: Protz has responded to his critics with a post that, despite his claims of being an Internet newbie, is a classic flame war response: deflect criticism, return fire, then call for a truce. I think he raises some good points, as I’ve noted, about whether BrewDog’s beer was exclusively made with brewer’s yeast but his attacking manner isn’t going to win him many converts to his arguments.

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