Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'Belgium is sleepy in the matter of beer.'

Those are the words of my friend Cedric Jamar, a Brussels beer aficionado and barman at Moeder Lambic. Here you can listen in on a conversation between Cedric and Stone brewer Greg Koch at Moeder Lambic Fontainas one cold December evening. (Thanks to Stefan for the heads up.)

Maybe it's for the viewer's sake that Koch appears to have a hard time accepting the fact that most Belgians know little about beer. Maybe many American enthusiasts, who tend to hold Belgian beer in high regard, think of all Belgians as beer gurus. But to me the truth is intuitive: Most Belgians know a few mass-market beers, and maybe locally made village beer, and that's about it. Meanwhile the champions of biére artisanale are a small minority.

Sound familiar? It should. Because it describes virtually every country where people enjoy beer. The vocabulary varies, as does the relative size of the minority. But there are no exceptions to the basic phenomenon.

From the perspective of any passionate enthusiast, the whole world is sleepy in the matter of beer.


  1. And if they weren't, imagine what we fans would be paying for the stuff!

  2. Where does Bamberg (as one example, although most others would also be Bavaria) fit in?

    They may not know much of beer even as far away as Munich but the locally brewed beers are diverse and excellent. They know what's good. They would notice if those beers were suddenly replaced by mass-market beers.

    Is that just knowing a little bit about beer or all that is important?

  3. Alan: I considered mentioning that. It reminds me of why I sometimes hope that MLS remains unpopular in America. Season tickets are a steal. And there's no canned noise.

    Stan: Bamberg certainly rates high in per capita beer quality. If we think in terms of a bell curve, I guess somewhere has to be the place on the far, narrow end. Meanwhile Germany as a whole is a lot like Belgium and every other traditional beer country I've visited: A whole lot of people taking their country's product for granted while often knowing less about it than your average tourist.

    As far as whether it's important that Belgians or Germans know more about beer, I'm going to stick my neck out there and say yes. It's relatively important, if one is proud of the fact that one's country makes such fine world famous beer. If that's the case, one would do well to learn more about the tradition and the options out there instead of bragging on whatever brand sponsors your soccer league as being the best in the world or regurgitating silly marketing, such as the claim that Stella Artois has been around since 1366.

  4. Filip from BelgianBeerBoard really got his knickers in a twist about this video.

  5. On the comment about the prices being higher if beer were more popular, I suppose the case might be that in places like the States or perhaps Belgium. But here in Finland, the selection is very poor (state controlled monopoly on selling liquids with ABV over 4,7% to private homes) and due to wine being seen as more cultured, the state-owned liquor stores are full of wine with only a few beers for sale and most of those are either Czech pilseners or international lagers. If beer (as in culture/hobby/whatever, not as a way to get drunk) was seen and actually was more popular, there might at least be improvement on the selection.

  6. I don't know how many times I've met a Belgian and as the conversation turns toward beer (as it usually does with me), I hear something like this: "Oh, you like Belgian beer? It's the best beer in the world!" Then the speaker proceeds to take a sip of his/her Jupiler/Stella/Maes (or for the more sophisticated, a Westmalle Tripel)

  7. Joe:

    * If I'm to get on board with the idea that beer is the people's drink - a train I'll happily ride any day. . .

    * And if I'm content with drinkers appreciating quality in the glass, and noticing when it slips or when a competitor isn't as qualified.

    Then I don't know that I can require a drinker know "about the tradition and the options out there" to be considered a champion of better beer.

  8. In my view knowing a bit about tradition and options is much more realistic than expecting your average drinkers to appreciate quality. I'm not asking a lot here. I'd be content if most Germans knew that Altbier comes from Düsseldorf and most Belgians knew that monks do NOT make Leffe. I'm not suggesting that they be champions of better beer, but rather of an important piece of their cultureal traditions. In the U.K. too, why not? Hell, public school classrooms in those countries ought to have posters of the brewing process tacked between the alphabet and the national flag.

    Meanwhile: The average drinker, I reckon, doesn't want to appreciate quality. He simply wants to drink. Which is wonderful for him. But again there is a minority of us who want something more. Beer generally can be the people's drink. But quality beer costs a bit more, is harder to find, and is basically for people who appreciate quality.

    Maybe it's an un-American, un-democratic, elitist view. I'm not saying that most people can't appreciate quality. I'm merely saying that they don't. That's what I think Cedric meant by "sleepy," and it applies to many places and many aesthetic pursuits that most people can't be arsed about.