Do you want the truth or something beautiful?

Gypsy, contract or fake brewers as they are sometimes known, clearly have a place in the current brewing scene but not everyone agrees with their presence or practices.

Jean Hummler of Moeder Lambic is one of those who certainly doesn’t agree.

During the conference he climbed upon his soapbox and provided a passionate and spirited outburst and has certainly stirred up what is already a subject of much debate.

The point that Mr Hummler was trying to get across was that the blogging community really need to tell the truth in what they write and they should almost weed out the fake brewers and shame them for their practises.  He has some strong feelings about his friend Mikkeller, but by Jeans definition, the work that Mikkeller is doing and the way he is acting, he is not a brewer, he is a beer designer.  Who Jean, in his own words doesn’t give a shit about.

Now that’s all well and good, but surely what’s important here is that by whatever means a beer is brewed or conceived, as long as the end result is good, what does it matter, right?

And Mikellers brewing activities have created some spectacular and also some quite intriguing beers.

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I’m not going to delve too deeply into this but the views of others at the conference should be considered before you can really come to any kind of conclusion on the current industry practises.

Chris Sullivan, of Stone Brewing Berlin, spoke to me and provided a great point about the relevance of gypsy/contract brewers. He views it as a ‘way in’, or ‘foot in the door’ to brewing for the home brewer or smaller brewer.  Who on their own may not have the means to set up a full blown brewing operation. It is also a way to rejuvenate old and possibly tired breweries whose production may have wained or are maybe struggling.  Which he cites has been the case for some German breweries.

So by allowing gypsy/contract breweries this can have two huge benefits. One for the brewer trying to make a name for themselves and also for the older breweries who may be looking for some inspiration to continue or improve. Some, and clearly Jean Hummler, see this as a massive problem, as by the dictionary definition of a brewer and brewery they can almost be viewed as being fake.

There are other views too, such as this held by An De Ryck of Brewery De Ryck. She believes that without that fundamental and historic link between brewer and his brewery, there is no brewer.  She believes that you must eat, sleep and breathe the brewery to truly be recognised as a brewer.  And it is this link that is clearly missing from the whole process whilst a contract brew is taking place.

Coming away from the conference, I pondered a lot on this matter and felt as if the content I’d heard at the conference could and should be expanded on.

So on my return home I decided to talk with The Occasional Brewery, a young, local nano-brewery whose brewing capacity is checked to 100 litres.

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Toby, and Fin the head brewer, shared these thoughts, over a beer of course.

We started our operations by expanding on our home brewing, we stepped up from brewing as a hobby and made it into our business.  As a small brewery we see contract brewing as a great way to further expand operations and make beer available to a bigger audience.  It’s a good way to grow a business without so much of the initial financial outlay, which can offer a little more security too.

By remaining relatively small, we have a lot of freedom when it comes to making decisions about what we brew; which is something that you don’t necessarily see in the larger commercial breweries.

But you also have to remember that commercial brewers are all out to make money, it’s their business, and the beer is just a product of that.  All business has to be profitable for it to remain viable, and if that requires the services of another business, well that’s just life.  You’ll encounter contracting and sub-contracting in all types of business, the world would be a very different place without it.

Mikkeller has clearly found a gap in the market and by being a good entrepreneur and businessman he is taking full advantage of it.  He is also feeding his knowledge and experience directly back into the beer market for others to experience first hand.

We as brewers, and also the consumer can learn a lot from what he is doing.  He’s not stuck with any kind of tradition or fallen into a specific category, and he’s been very successful in the process.  He’s just gone about his business, giving the bird to everyone else and just carried on in a way he’s sees fit.

The man should be respected for this.

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Hop Head. Sour Saint.

Sour beers; my first taste of a sour beer took place at the European Beer Bloggers Conference, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t overly impressed.

On the lead up to the conference I’d read a little about sour beers and was curious to try them and see what the fuss was all about.  I wondered whether they really had a place or were they just going to be a fad and the next cool beer to be seen drinking.

I went into the conference completely open minded and was certainly not going to refuse to try them.  But from the outset they just didn’t seem to sit right for me.  I have no problem with challenging tastes, nor with something that’s a little bit different, but the sour flavour given up by these beers was really a massive step way beyond everything I’d tasted before.

I am in no way disrespecting the brewers of these beers, as evidently they have gone to a lot of effort and expense to bring these products to the market, I’m just saying they are not to my taste.

During the conference, the issue of whether a beer can be good or bad was discussed.  The answer that was hit upon did sum it up, almost, just in a very diplomatic way stating that, really, there are no bad beers, just beers that need to find the right audience or market.  I do agree with this to a point, but to some people, there will always be bad beers.  If you come across a beer that you don’t like, then you can’t confidently and truly say that it’s a good beer, it’s just impossible.

Think of it this way, if there was no such thing as a bad beer, would we all be drinking the same, single type of beer, as there would be no need to brew anything else?

Not everybody can, should or will like sour beer.  And this choice should be respected as much as it is for the people who do like them. They’re not wrong for not liking them, it’s their choice and mine too, and here’s why;

Sour beers just do not give me what I want from a beer.  I want a beer to be enjoyable and a pleasure to drink in whatever form it may take, and unfortunately I just don’t feel that a sour beer can satisfy me in this way.  I’m not necessarily asking for something dead safe or boring, but for something that isn’t quite as outlandish or as challenging to my taste buds as a sour beer is.

I don’t want my beer to replicate a seaside supper condiment.  For me it should be inviting, satisfying, and not something that rips your mouth apart and leaves you looking like Esther Rantzen after that initial sharp draw of breath through your teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I know sour beers do have their place, but unfortunately that place is not in my drinks cupboard.

Saisons in the sun, part three. Bruges

The four phoned man is back with us this morning, which makes for an interesting air at my birthday breakfast. More guests have spied his cellular antics and appear curious.

Following breakfast we make our way to the station, via taxi of course. The train to Bruges arrives, we board and depart on the perfect geometry of the track beneath the birdsnest of the catenary. Precisely 1 hour and 6 minutes later we arrive and all around is the smell of chocolate.

Wandering away from the station and down the quaint cobbled streets some kid rattles past on his monkey bike. Nearing the centre, the clatter of suitcases on the cobbles fade and is replaced by the ringing of bicycle bells and horseshoes.

An awning shouts ‘beers’, I respond, ‘ok in a minute!’ We enter the beer shops and I feel like a kid in a sweet shop, my wife is one as she enters a chocolatier. I’m slightly overwhelmed by the choice so we continue our stroll.

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Further towards the centre of Bruges, a West Highland Terrier reminds us of home and we sit for a drink. A light, malty Bruges Blonde from the barrel it is, along with her kir royal.

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A sign in a shop window proclaiming ‘There are so many beautiful reasons to be happy’ catches my eye. In Belgium, beer is all of them, and as I pick up two bottles of Westmalle Tripel for €1.50 each, this is confirmed.

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Taking on water as we walk away from the square we happen across a bar of 400 beers going by the name of Cambrinus. Quickly I establish my choice of Forestinne Ambrosia. A spicy, piney, speciality amber beer. At 7.5% it’s pure nectar.

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Our seat at the bar is booked all day……

Hopus, as chosen by my wife, is next. 5 hops, 8.3%, flip top bottle and sexy glass, I’m all over it….

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Next, I ask the bar man for his recommendation and end up with a truly breathtaking hoppy blonde. Triporteur from Heaven. With a bucket load of familiar hops in a Belgian blonde, I have a new favourite colour…….I later discover that the hops are East Kent Golding, Styrian Golding and Cascade.

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We thank our host and continue to stroll around the back streets of Bruges. I vape and she enters a vintage shop, bicycles whizz past. Tourists litter the place as we admire the passing swans.

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Further along, I hear the cry, ‘do you want more beer?’ as we come across the beer wall. Hmmmm, thinking time required.

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At least I’ve found my beer scooter.

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I take a Westmalle Dubel, place myself adjacent to the canal and end up discussing the history of the Kwak glass with some Americans who happen to land next to me. They were in search of some English beer of all things, so I imagine they were pretty disappointed with the Belgian treats they brought to their table.

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Leaving the Americans behind to ponder their next move, we enter the Bottle Shop, stock up and continue on.

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Further stocking up takes place at Brown Sugar as we head back to the station via a quick caffeine boost and a top up of the draw.

On board the air conditioned comfort of the double deck 18.08 from Bruges, we head back to Brussels.

To be continued when I return to Brussels at the end of August for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. #EBBC15

Part one here, part two here!