World’s Most Expensive Beer, Available For $5.00…

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In looking through all of the material that I gathered while researching at the Michael Jackson archive in Oxford, I came across this gem, taken from the California Celebrator (Vol. 1, Issue 3 – July/August 1988). Jackson collected every beer publication imaginable and had them cataloged for his later review. Heralding the arrival of the “Most Expensive Beer in the World,” the issue highlights the creatively named Schaff-Brau Feuerfest Edel Bier No. 215453. At 9% alcohol, the writer was blown away. What floors me was the price of the World’s Most Expensive Beer.

Five bucks.

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Pete Brown Surveys Beer Writing, Also Finds It Boring…

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In the new issue of Brewery History, one dedicated to celebrating the late beer writer Michael Jackson, British beer writer Pete Brown writes the introductory article and in the process a chord familiar to readers of this site. The article also lays out the size of the footprint left by Jackson. Having spent several days in his archive in Oxford, there is a lot to Jackson’s story that has not yet been told. If I have time today, I’ll try and post a few tidbits gleaned from my research. Here’s the cutaway from Pete Brown’s story:

Now I’m getting things off my chest, I have a second shameful confession: as a beer writer, I actually find a substantial chunk of beer writing a little boring. As Jeff Evans tells us here, Michael set the template for much modern beer writing when he gave us The World Guide to Beer in 1977. Twenty years later, when a callow adman tried to learn something about beer, that template had become somewhat debased. Trawls of bookshops (often bargain shops full of remaindered stock) yielded a shelf full of books that had copied Michael’s format slavishly, repeated it, and not done it quite as well. It all seemed a bit samey, a bit rigid and narrow. Read one book that had chapters on the brewing process, beer’s ingredients, then a gazetteer of great beers form
around the world, and you’ve read ’em all. Or so I believed.

Of course he goes on to describe, within the confines of the magazine issue, why beer writing is anything but boring. I look forward to reading the issue.

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A Tale of Two Beer Festivals…

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As legend has it, homebrewing advocate Charlie Papazian and beer writer Michael Jackson gazed over the bounty of excellent beers on the floor of the Great British Beer Festival in the early 1980s and an idea struck Papazian. He turned to Jackson and remarked that he wanted to hold a similar festival back in the United States. Jackson nodded in understanding, and wryly retorted, “yes, but where will you get the beer?”

The first Great American Beer Festival, held in a small Boulder hotel ballroom in 1982, saw beers from around twenty breweries, whose numbers mainly included the few regional breweries still in existence, along with upstarts such as Sierra Nevada and Boulder Brewing. In the truest sense of, “if you build it, they will come,” a fast forward nearly three decades finds the GABF to have developed into the world’s largest beer festival, boasting 3,500 beers from 500 breweries.

The grand daddy of beer fests, the GBBF too remains strong and still sets an enviable example for other events. The GBBF at Earl’s Court is a curious place where servers pour beers by the pint, in actual, proper glasses, and where many attendees stand around engaged in conversation while slowly enjoying their ales. To be sure, the GBBF suffers from some of the same issues that plague other fests, but seemingly to a lesser extent. While people still cheer when a pint shatters on the cement floor, no one tries to smack the glass from your hands as with recent GABF’s. There is also something remarkably adult about the GBBF’s format, where the larger vessels counsel visitors to slow down and really get to know their beers. And with bottles available for take away—and often at prices better than what we get in the states—GABF veterans can be forgiven their astonishment.

But there are signs of change at the traditionalist GBBF as well. While the real ale booths remain well-attended, it’s the foreign bars, filled with American, Belgian, and German treats that truly pack in the crowds. Perhaps out of sheer novelty, the often unbelievable prices, or maybe as a palate bashing break from mellower British offerings, these beers remain in constant demand and disappear quickly. Starting with close to 100 casks and hundreds of bottles on the first day of the festival, which was mainly open to brewers and other members of the trade, nearly everything was ravaged by the end of day two. Plenty of thirsty, disappointed beer enthusiasts could be expected for the final two days of the event. Beyond the foreign bars, by far the most popular British beers at the fest had some sort of American connection. I watched the Colorado American IPA from Red Squirrel enveloped in a constant stream of pours until it kicked, all while dozens of other nearby traditional beers sat untouched. Similar scenes could be experienced across the hall with BrewDog’s Punk IPA. Where the IPA moniker once suggested stodgy, old beers your dad would drink, by the end of day two, attendees had killed every IPA at the fest, an incredible change of circumstances in only a few years.

To be sure, hundreds of brilliant, traditional milds, bitters, and porters dominated the beer engines and the awards presentations. All the excitement of the fest, however, centered on the less established offerings and suggested that the future of British beer might not rest in campaigns to return to perceived glory days of old but in the splendor and whimsy of brewing innovation. As brewers at the GABF continue to experiment and push the definitions of beer and the boundaries of the drinking public, it’ll be interesting to see what results in the tug of war between the American and British brewing models in another twenty-five years.

–Article appeared in Issue 43 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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