It is time for this month’s session! This time, we are tasked with writing on which four people, past or present, we would like to have over for a beer dinner, and which four beers would I serve. Without a doubt, I would invite a student, an entrepreneur, a diplomat, and a dancer. Since these people are all dead, I’m going to go ahead and assume they speak perfect modern English as well.
The Student: I do not know this ancient Egyptian’s name, but he has been forever immortalized by his teacher, who pleaded with his pupil to stop drinking and return to his studies. He writes:
"I am told that thou forsakest books (and) dost abandon thyself to pleasure. Thou dost wander from tavern to tavern. Every evening the smell of beer, the smell of beer frightens men away (from thee). It corrupts thy soul, (and) thou art like a broken oar. Thou canst guide to neither side. Thou art like a temple without a god, (like) a house without bread. Thou art detected as thou climbest up the walls, and breakest the plank. The people flee from thee, and thou dost strike and wound them. O, that thou wouldst comprehend that wine is an abomination and that thou wouldst abjure the pomegranate-drink; that thou wouldst not set thy heart on fig-wine, and that thou wouldst forget the carob-wine.
Now, I am not sure if this guy was a particularly bad student or not, but it is heartwarming to know students have been acting the same way since the start of civilization.
The Entrepreneur: either Elynour Rummyng, Mother Louse or Mother Bunch, or any other alewife lost to history, whoever is available. These women would have started a business in an interesting time, when women in English society were not exactly treated fairly. There was one alewife who was subjected to the false claim that she had leprosy, causing her business to fold. I would imagine the anti-alewife mentality stems from men being afraid of women having power. Yet these women would have known to brew, and brew well, so to talk to them and learn more about their experiences would be something quite unique.
The Diplomat: Sir Kenelm Digby, English courtier and Roman Catholic at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. Sir Digby lived an interesting life, and was even deemed as a reputable philosopher, but more importantly, he wrote a recipe book. The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened. In it are recipes for 17th century pies, pasties, beers, wines and meads. It has served as one of the key resources for studying historic gastronomy. To discuss this with him, and the finer points of brewing, would save years worth of research into historical records.
The Dancer: A woman with no name, dubbed the Egtved Girl. She was a Danish teenager, buried around 1370 BC along with one birch bucket. Residue analysis carried out by Dr. Patrick McGovern and team showed that it had beer made from wheat, honey, bog myrtle and cowberries. Whether this was a beer special for funerals, whether it was consumed, if those ingredients were common etc., could all be answered within a quick dinner side chat.
To limit it only to four beers is a bit tough, as I am sure these guests would like to experience all the ranges of modern brewing. Yet having even 30 minutes of their time would help answer so many questions...and really put me out of a job.
As stated by Brookstone Beer Bulletin:The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. This month The Session is hosted by Beer Meets Business, who would like to know what we think we will see more of in the future of craft beer. Tough topic, as it 's hard to separate what I want to see and what will actually happen.
What we will see
The same. We will see new breweries popping up, offering the same flashy keywords they need to deliver to attach themselves to the craft beer market. Whether they're brewing hop-forward beers to make the next great IPA, sessionable beers for drinkability, or wild ales to capture a region’s terroir, the craft beer market is still a niche. There is still plenty of room for other brewers to come in, and each will find a way to brew beer in their own way. Essentially, the boring answer is, the brewing industry will carry on as normal. Breweries have bought other breweries in the past, others have brewed the most popular style, while others were dedicated to ‘traditional’ beers. So, I guess we’re at the new age of the normalization of the brewing industry.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic. The more the merrier, as they say. It’s just, looking at history, shake-ups in the brewing industry only come once in a long while. Look at Egypt; they had a (seemingly) continuous brewing culture for 3,000 years until the Greeks came and messed it all up (apologies to Brewing Classical). But really, the biggest changes to European beer have been the industrialization of brewing, the proliferation of hops, Pasteur’s work on S. cerevisiae and the advent of lager beer. One could make the argument too that all-brett beers are the newest form of beer, but that remains to be seen.
What we will see is more proliferation of indigenous brewing styles and brewing recreations. When so many breweries are seeking to distinguish themselves, they’re forced to look at how they approach brewing. One easy way to do this is to look to other countries who’ve developed their own brewing culture. In parts of Africa and India, for example, it is tradition to pour hot water over a communal batch of beer, so drinkers have a constant source to drink. Whether this is to Western tastes is one thing, but to adopt it and use it as a source of inspiration would, I find, bring great variety.
This won’t happen anytime soon, as the research isn’t out quite yet. But things are moving in brewing archaeology and history, which I think will bring great innovation to the industry. To be fair, and to add a bit of skepticism to my dream, people typically say the beers aren't superb. Or they're good, but not great. The most recent rendition stated the beers were interesting but wouldn’t be to the public’s taste. I'm just waiting for the day a brewery takes history as the inspiration, and brings it up to date.
But, these aren’t new things, just revivals. So, I’m afraid the future of craft beer is simply more of the same.
This month’s session is on the role of beer books, a topic which I could probably rant on about for a good while. So, I will focus on those books which have been there; key literature which guided me along the path I'm on today.
Before beer was a thought
I was accepted to UC Santa Cruz in the summer of 2006. I thought my future lied in exploring the deep sea, trudging along the ocean floor hunting for squids. But sometimes it just doesn't work out.
That father’s day, I coincidentally bought my dad The Brewmaster's Table by none other than Garret Oliver. At the time my dad was getting into craft beer, but I was still under age and refrained from drinking. I wanted to wait til I was 21 to have my first proper pint, but that didn't happen (college and all). Flash forward a year or two, and I read that book out of curiosity during one summer. There in the book was the first description of beer history I ever read and laid the foundation of my love for beer.
Before the obsession
Around the time I graduated, I jokingly told my dad he should start homebrewing. And so, naturally, calling my dare our first batch together soon followed. Within a month or so we had our 5 gallon all grain HERMs set up, along with our collection of different beer books.
Given how much I read How To Brew by John Palmer and Brewing Better Beer by Gordon Strong, I feel like they deserve an honorable mention. Yet it was Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing with its different recipes from history that moved my interests forward. This book showed me that beers from the past were drinkable, interesting, and could be used as inspiration for today. This then lead me to wonder how beer fits in culturally, at what time these beers were developed, and the ultimate question, how did brewing begin?
Wanting to know more about beer history, I ordered a copy of Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Richard Unger. I need to order a new copy since mine is essentially in ruins. I cannot recommend this book enough, and I frequently reread it to pick up information. Reading up on Richard Unger (and others like him), and how it was professionally possible to pursue the history of beer in academia - coupled with my dissatisfaction in marine biology - was the final straw in attending graduate school to research into beer archaeology.
So, as it happens, one of my good friends was attending Durham University for his Ph.D. Given his recommendation, I decided to give it a shot. I somehow got in and ‘moved across the pond’ as they say. The library here was phenomenal, and I was able to find books I couldn’t find before, the dissertation by none other than Merryn Dineley, and books I had no idea existed. Out of all of the books, I used A History of Beer and Brewing by Ian Hornsey. This book was a treasure trove of information, and I always used it as a starting point to begin research. I need to get myself a copy, as it is a great book.
During my time at Durham, I bought two books which I thought were fantastic: Boak and Bailey’s Brew Britannia, andPete Brown’s Shakespeare’s Local. I was about halfway through these books, but as the story goes, I met Her (at a pub no less), fell in love, and decided to move to Berlin after we graduated.
Now, I only had a backpack with me (and her suitcase thankfully enough) to move everything I had over to Germany (with one quick stop off to Switzerland). I, unfortunately, had to throw away Pete Brown and Boak and Bailey’s books. They both are excellent books, and I would recommend them to anyone, but I had to bring the essentials, and we quickly ran out of luggage space. I wish instead I could write about books I could've kept, but that’s just not how it happened. Now that I am back on my feet with a bit of permanency, I am slowly building up my own brewing library.
Ich bin ein Berliner
So, now after what seems a lifetime ago of living in England, I live and work in Berlin away from academia (for the time being). I have just started to accrue my brewing equipment, made friends with those in the business, and started teaching myself the German language. A unique place to be, for sure, given that I never imagined myself to be in such a place. But, I am lucky enough to have the luxury to learn a language, and to research/write about beer history in my free time.
That is why I think for this point of time in my life, I would recommend (if you speak German) Das Bier: Eine Geschichte von Hopfen und Malz, by Dr. Franz Meußdoerffer and Dr. Martin Zarnkow. Bear in mind, though, that I speak/read at a child’s level of German, and so reading this book is slow. But because I had had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Martin Zarnkow, I trust that it will be an interesting take on the history of beer. By the end of it, hopefully, in addition to some beer facts, I’ll improve my German some as well.
There are plenty of books I am skipping over. One on the history of countryside brewing in England, fermented beverages in the Sudan, the cultural role of consumption, etc etc. But these were the books that guided me onto my current career path and of brewing obsession. In the end, I just hope this month’s session inspires more reading, more learning, and more writing!
For this rendition of the session, we were tasked to put down our IPAs and seek out a few pilsners to compare and contrast. Something I can get behind since pilsners, I feel, don’t get enough love. I would have written about the history of pilsner for this post, but that would be a disservice to Evan Rail’s work and expertise. Check out his Pilsner Urquell series if you’d like to read more on the topic.
I don’t know how I forgot to buy a Czech Pils, but I hope the beer gods forgive me due to the amount of Pilsner Urquell and other pils I have drank (drunk?) before.
Beer 1: Light golden color, lingering foamy head, with a faint green apple aroma. Not too much taste, but noticeable hop and biscuit flavor.
Overall: 3 / 5
Beer 2: Orange in color, a long lasting dense white head, with a nice orange marmalade aroma. Tastes almost of an orange soda with some grapefruit. Dry and bitter finish.
Beer 3: Light gold in color, rapidly dissipating head with not too much nose (but what I get is bready). Not too much flavor, but it has a faint pale malt taste with a hint of hops.
Overall: 3.2 / 5 So, Beer 1 was Schoenramer Pils, Beer 2 (no surprise) was To Ol’s Markedpils, and Beer 3 was Heidenpeters Pilz. All the beers here were solid representation of what Pilsners can be, but I am a bit surprised as I expected more from Heidenpeter’s. Still, these beers would all be nice on a hot day, like it should be in Berlin...despite all the rain this past week.
One man is sitting outside, drinking what appears to be a porter.
Above the entryway is a wooden plaque displaying the name of the pub, with Victorian-esque light fixtures adorning the outside wall.
Inside the pub are beer steins (Steinkruege) adorning wooden nooks, crannies, and display cases. The decorations are akin to a British pub, with the atmosphere to match. For the sake of anonymity, though, it is tough to go into detail about the place as it would be a total giveaway. But there is brewing memorabilia towards the back, with paintings of various beer labels and brewery logos.
This is an international craft beer bar and dedicates itself to beers from only one country. An idea normally afforded to the Belgians, and one which I hope catches on. It gives me more reasons to go out.
I order a pale ale. There are 19 taps, of which three are dedicated to cask ales. This is the only place (to my knowledge) that offers cask ale in Berlin, despite it not being a British pub. The beer styles range from pilsner to hefeweizen, a hopped bock to double IPA. It is one of the more impressive tap lists, but the majority of the beers are only from one brewery, despite it advertising as a craft beer bar, and not a brewery tap house.
There are also around 20 different bottles available, ranging from 11 to 40 euros in price.
An Italian woman walks up to the bar and greets the bartenders in a boisterous manner. While they exchange pleasantries, I stand in silence waiting for a freshly pulled beer.
I decide to sit outside, as the weather is agreeable and the bar is located in a nice neighborhood. There are six plants in the venue, hedges on the outside, with two trees shading the front patio. People walk by every other minute or so, always looking tempted to join in. Two others enter; this time German. They order a hefeweizen and a bock beer.
There are normally no TVs here, but given the European Championships, one is hanging in front of a window.
The Italian woman joins the man drinking outside. It appears they have organized a social gathering for a large group of internationals as they switched to English once more of them arrived. Their party eventually grows to eight. They’re all drinking different beer, but none of them have the hefeweizen or pilsner.
I finish up my pint and decide to sit inside next to the window. A couple walks in and start asking the bartender for advice on what to drink. Do bartenders get enough credit? It must get tiresome to recommend beer day in and day out.
The chef is preparing something, but it involves a giant wheel of cheese. Another man walks in, this time American. He seems to be the most talkative out of all the patrons, as he jumped from group to group trying to start a conversation. He is drinking the double IPA.
I try to distinguish what people are talking about, but it’s a touch difficult given the three different languages being spoken in here. Some are catching up; others are discussing the philosophy of death. Typical pub talk, really.
There are five people smoking, no vapes. Oddly enough, there are also five people with visible tattoos.
As I am about to leave, I notice an ‘American lager’ on tap. I am not aware of any American-style lager that is worthwhile, but to my surprise, it was a good beer despite my palate being wrecked after the session IPA.
It is now 20:02 when I leave, and there are sixteen people in the pub.