Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ok, Time for a Rant!

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine showed me this website, which I had a laugh over and did not think much of at the time. While I would like to say I am a bit adventurous with what flavours we like to get in our homebrewing, I am not sure what a show like this will accomplish for the beer industry. A brewery owned by Lion Nathan looking for what seems like trinkets and cosmetic improvements to beer does not appeal to me much. I can understand the industry is on the cusp of growth in beer (more in diversity that pure volume), but I just do not see what a venture like this will achieve. Will people question what beers they drink, or just how they drink.

I am reminded of a program I saw recently talking about the beer industry. What Shawn Sherlock says at the beginning about using old techniques but being innovative to explore different styles made me think, 'well, brewing is process orientated. It comes down to that, over the tidbits that may well be the result of what come out of this Hahn and television venture'.

Still, the question remains, how are we best to promote and grow the brewing industry? I hasten to point that I am not talking about drinking more beer, my philosophical approach to beer is one focused more on diversity and tasting 'good' beer...whatever that is for whoever is drinking it.

Having just come through Good Beer Week (GBW) here in Melbourne, of course I see this as a good vehicle for the industry, which I am happy to see is being replicated soon in Queensland ( This showcased not just the diversity and 'craft' of beer itself, but with the festival's continued growth, the different ways it can be enjoyed (eg, with food [degustation, chocolate pairing]), even to the point where drinking beer is not the main aspect to the adventure (eg, beer treasure/scavenger hunt). However, one thing that I was pleased to see in the lead up to GBW was a concept called The People's Pint. While I wouldn't really contemplate putting in something for the Hahn 'Pioneering Beering' program, I was more than happy to put in my thoughts for this 'think tank' venture. It was simply giving people ownership over their own tastebuds and what they would like to see in a beer. Nothing showcases the humility, diversity and openness beer has than allowing people to come up with their own ideas on what beer should/could taste like. Beer was an accident many thousands of years ago, and the knowledge that yeast had anything to do with it at all only came relatively recently in human history. Why should we try to control what is can be. Ok, this is my non-technical, open minded, philosophical approach coming through here, but I think that is how you really connect with other people to help them enjoy beer. Open their mind and you may well open their tastebuds in the process.

Taking this concept back to where I work, Mountain Goat have given the brewer's license to come up with their own beers as specialities for the brewery. The results have differed ('The Craig' came best in its class at the recent beer awards, while it looks like 'The Mike' may not even make it out to the general public because of some issues that occurred in the brewing process), but the open approach is the advantage beer has that I think needs to be the focus. For myself, I am happy to introduce beer to people in a way to find 'their' flavour, and I 'try' not to judge their choices, but then open them to the possibilities of beer. Sure, this has led some people to ask me whether beer can taste like tuna salad, or others describing a beer as tasting like 'arse', but generally I like to think I have allowed them to come to beer in the way they can enjoy it, through the aromas, taste, textures, and sensations (and yes, in some part the alcohol) they want to get from it. I just hope my knowledge is enough to help find a general direction for all the people I meet in this way, and love it when they come back to me saying they have found a beer they like, or if I have tried this beer they just tasted.

Anyway, with my happy 'head in the clouds' part over, I want to come back to the program I saw a few weeks back and be a bit more serious on the topic they focused on. I have quite a bit to do with draught beer seeing I am the main man at Goat that fills the kegs that get sent out to you punters to wet your whistles and hopefully satisfy your tastebuds. Goat have also just come through the biggest ever month in terms of kegs produced by the brewery. Kegs are probably the most efficient and effective way for breweries to get their beer out to the public, and create the least amount of environmental impact in terms of packaging. The issue of larger breweries buying/'tying' the taps of pub and bars is one that is therefore an important one in the logistics of the industry, and the diversity of beers available on tap at your 'local'. For a tap system, maintenance of taps, upgrade of tap system, regular delivery of kegs for a bars stock, discount on kegs, whatever the reason a bar/pub may have to help make them work more efficiently, this system where larger breweries (with more resources than smaller ones) buy or tie the taps of a venue to ensure their beer is available in as many venues as possible, is therefore one of note.
Beer is and should be accessible to those that are legally able to consume it (I would also like to add the proviso that they should also have the right attitude and respect towards alcohol, but that is only my own opinion, and even I do not always have that when I am drinking). The question as to how much of a monopoly there should be on a venues taps is the issue. I am not going to pretend I know all there is on this topic, but as my own personal attitude denotes, I would like to see more diversity in what is available. I would also like to see more of a 'regionalised' approach to beer, where locals are encouraged to support local breweries, much like I have seen in Europe and parts of the Unites States. I guess I am also a bit hypocritical in saying this as I also like going to specialised pubs/bars that have international beers available on tap and in the bottle, and the latter clutter up my house with beers from around the world. However, I have also done enough travel to show I appreciate the regional aspect of beer, and some of my best experiences with beer have been finding them where they are made. I guess I am also lucky living in Melbourne where it is a good region for finding local beers, many of which from microbreweries. However, I wonder with the 'regionalised' attitude whether more small breweries would open up, being open to the tastes of the locals it satisfies and resourceful to the ingredients it has access to, even creating a style/tradition of brewing for itself, that would then attract people like myself to come and taste. I did it for Bamberg in Germany, and the N/W of the US, and the regionalised diversity of Belgium still astounds me.

From all this I am not sure I have a solution, and with my contradictory behaviour with beer, I am probably not best to spout one solution over another. I guess the question comes back to you. Do you want to see the same beers in every pub you go into? Would you prefer the other extreme where brewpubs only supply their own beer on tap? Is there a happy balance between the two? Is my stance just two sides of the same coin, between regionalised and international? Is anyone actually reading this?

So what was to become a rant in this post has become a questioning of myself. I guess I can't be hard on myself though, it is the approach I hope I take with each beer I taste. Be open to it (I hope even my last post on the Dogbolter shows this), question it against what pool of experience I already have, and react honestly, and hopefully with respect.

All I reckon is that this Hahn thing will not do much for the industry, and that I think it comes back to what Richard Watkins spoke of...just make the right product...good beer. I hope it is that simple.


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