Showing posts with label rants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rants. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Microbrew is Meaningless

I read an article yesterday about some university professor who stated a preference for Coors over and above many a craft ale. As you can imagine, the ire of the craft beer legionnaires was duly raised - I mean, how dare someone state a preference? The professor then went on to say that when he was in Prague, the pale lagers he drank were "uniformly terrific", and of course in the minds of the craft beer legionnaires this was proof positive that he had been drinking the very microbrewed beers that he had been putting down in his article.

Now believe it or not, I don't enjoy ranting that much, unless of course we are in beer's natural environment, the pub for those unsure of where that would be, and I am with friends generally putting the world to rights. However, when I see ridiculous statements along the lines of Pilsner Urquell being a microbrew then I am sure you can appreciate my annoyance.

Pilsner Urquell is not, never has been, never will a microbrew. That's not to say that I think Pilsner Urquell is a bad beer. When you get it from a good pub, using a tankove system, and thus unpasteurised, it is still one of the truly great beers of the world - one of which is mentioned in my Pocket Pub Guide to Prague. I don't care if it turns up at festivals purporting to be about craft beer, it simply does not fit the given criteria of a craft beer according to the Brewer's Association. Production is about 8.5 million US barrels a year, and the company is an entirely owned subsidiary of SABMiller. To put their production volume in context, 8.5 million barrels, or about 10 million hectolitres for the metric among us, is almost 1 hectrolitre produced for every man, woman and child in the Czech Republic. That's 100 litres, or 200 large beers in the pub - in American measurements that is 3381 ounces of beer, or 211 16oz pints of beer. If you were to scale those numbers up for the population of the USA, Pilsner Urquell would need to produce nearly 300 million barrels a year. In it's proper context then, Pilsner Urquell is a macro-brewery plain and simple.

The comments thread that followed the initial article showed quite clearly the perils of attempting to jelly mould any given concept outside that concept's original context. Hence, the division between "craft" beer and industrial beer is largely irrelevant outside the American context. Without the lunacy, and inherent hypocrisy, of Prohibition, the idea that good beer was invented in the 1970s holds no liquor. Given that, it makes the claim that Pilsner Urquell started out as a microbrew just as spurious and irrelevant as claiming "Guinness is a lager" (yes, that was in the comments as well!).

You cannot take modern concepts and force them into history, you must allow history to speak for itself. If, in 1839, you had sat down with the good burghers of Pilsen and tasted whatever it was they were about to dump, you wouldn't have been saying "let's start a microbrewery"! You would have been saying something along the lines of, "we need to invest in the latest technology and make ourselves a more consistent, better beer". Along with the other burghers of the city, you would then spend vast sums of money building a state of the art brewery, hiring a Bavarian brewer - because, let's face it, Bavarian brewers tend to be the best at what they do. Hey presto, Pilsner Urquell is tapped on November 11th 1842 and becomes a phenomenal success. If you have ever been to the brewery in Plzeň, one thing is plainly clear, this brewery was built for volume. It was never built as a little operation that became popular and had to scale up. You have to remember that at the time, every pub in Plzeň would have served a locally brewed beer and so you had to be prepared to supply hundreds of pubs almost instantly.

Coming back to the professor's claim that the beers he enjoyed in Prague were "uniformly terrific" and subsequent claims that he was drinking microbrew, again I doubt that would stand up to reality. Admittedly here I am surmising, but if the professor was there as a tourist, without the benefit of insiders to point him in the right direction, then most of the pubs he went to would have been in Staré Město, Nové Město or Malá Strana. Most of the pubs in question would have been serving Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Staropramen or Gambrinus, none of which are microbrew in a Czech context. Budvar though is right up there in terms of being a great beer, but again I would say that within the Czech context it would be spurious to label it "microbrew". However, and I think this is the best light from which to see the professor's article, even bilge water like Staropramen is a damned sight better than Coors or Miller, so it is no surprise that he was blown away by "uniformly terrific" Czech pale lager. Speaking from more than a decade's worth of living in Prague, given a choice between a god awful Gambrinus and an equally god awful lager in the UK (Foster's springs to mind) or the US, I would take the Gamba? every time. When it comes to craft pale lagers, there are few that I would take over a Budvar, but that's a different post.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ultimate Drinking Experience?

On my way home from work yesterday, admittedly via a slightly circuitous route, I popped into the local Barnes and Noble to see if they had the latest editions of the various beer and brewing magazines that I like to read. There was a new edition of Brew Your Own, which is fast becoming my favourite beer related magazine, and as I already had the current edition of All About Beer, I picked up their special edition Beer Traveler. Having driven the rest of the way home with Rammstein in the CD player, I was looking forward to reading about the places where "serious beer lovers" should go in order to get oneupmanship points on the rest of the world.

Naturally I wanted to see what they had to say about the Czech Republic and there was some stuff about Plzeň, for some inexplicable reason it was spelt "Pilzn" on the map Stan Hieronymous' was using (name and address of the cartographers please, so I can send vicious email claiming ignorance!), and about the Eggenberg brewery in ?esky Krumlov, a place where I saw this most interesting of signs:

Of the rest of the special, I was most interested in the 150 Perfect Places to Have A Beer, a list of which purports to tell the dedicated beer traveler where to find the finest beer drinking experiences. Now, I am not sure how they compiled this list, though I somewhat doubt it was as thorough as the Good Beer Guide, but a couple of things intrigued me, other than why their software couldn't handle some of the diacritics in the Czech pub names.

Speaking of the Czech venues on the list, they were ranked as follows:
  1. U Flek? (Prague) - 14th in the overall list
  2. Kr?ma (?esky Krumlov) - 44th
  3. Czech Beer Festival (Prague) - 54th
  4. Pivovarsky klub (Prague) - 75th
  5. Zly ?asy (Prague) - 83rd
Really? Are you kidding me? The Czech Beer Festival is a better place to get a pint than Zly ?asy or Pivovarsky klub? Let me get this completely straight, in the mind of All About Beer, an over-priced beer fest swimming in mass produced swill is better than two reasonably priced pubs with an ever changing selection of quality beers? Apparently the Flying Saucer, of which there is one that I enjoy going to in Columbia, South Carolina, is ranked higher than all the Czech pubs, bar U Flek?. On what basis? Now don't get me wrong here, I like the Flying Saucer in Columbia, and have raved about it many times on here, but better than Pivovarsky klub? You're having a laugh surely?

What about other pubs and places I know and have enjoyed pints in? Well, Dublin's venerable Bull and Castle ranks 18th, while the Porterhouse in Temple Bar is 42nd (only 2 places above Kr?ma? WTF!) and that's it for Ireland, other than the Gravity Bar at St James's Gate.

As for the UK, I don't think I have been to any of the places on the list, but I am not expecting a case of existential angst over the matter any time soon, but if the list is to be believed, the best place to get a beer in the UK is.....the Great British Beer Festival. It would appear that great places to get a pint in the UK are limited to London, Sheffield and Stonehaven. Sorry Burton upon Trent, you have nothing to offer. Sorry Oxford, the Inklings clearly knew nothing about a good place or two to have a pint. Sorry Manchester and area, Tandleman is clearly ignorant of the lack of good watering holes in your neck of the woods. Sorry Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen (home to the BrewDog pub), Newcastle, Carlisle, Birmingham, Cambridge, Norwich, and so and so on.

Of course one man's pivní perfection is another man's hoppy hell, so list's like this must be taken with a large pinch of salt, and I allowed myself a wry smile at the many pubs I love and miss in Prague which didn't make the list. However, forgive me if I am overly cyncial, but surely the best place to get a beer in the world would be the only place you can buy Westvleteren with the blessing of the monks? Where does In De Vrede come on the list?

It doesn't.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Not Again!!

I am a glutton, for punishment it seems, given the near apoplectic rage that comes over me when reading beer and homebrewing magazines that go on spouting bollocks when they really should know better.

Again, the target of my ire is the "Buyer's Guide for Beer Lovers" in the latest edition of All About Beer magazine. Before I rage though, let me say that the article about cask ale in the US was excellent and please, please, please people on this side of the Atlantic, badger your local pubs and various drinking holes to start offering cask.

Now then, to that which caused my irk. Who actually decides the category that a beer falls into? Whoever it is needs to re-read the style guidelines printed with the tasting notes, which claim that strong ales are "higher alcohol versions of pale ale" which are usually "deep amber". Then, when you go and look at the beers falling under that category, the top one listed is the Imperial Porter from Rogue Ales, which our apparent experts on beer describe thus: "brown black colour with a rocky reddish tan head".

Anyone else seeing the problem here? The label says it is an Imperial Porter, a name lumped together with the Baltic Porter category (perhaps the plebs don't know where the Baltic Sea is, and after all if you want to make a stronger version of something why not just label it "imperial"?), so why oh why, for crying out loud is this beer not in the Baltic/Imperial Porter category?

The label says it is a porter, the colour says it is a porter, so put it in one of the porter categories you mongs!

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

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