Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Irish Holiday, British Pub, Costa Rican Craft Beer.

The photo here was taken by Pinar Istek for the Voice of Nosara. It's from St. Patrick's Day at the Black Sheep Pub in Nosara, a Guanacaste coastal town popular among surfers, yogis, fishermen and retirees. (No doubt there are a few people who are all those things at once.)

Looks to me like the Libertas blonde ale. Tengo sed.

I've mentioned the Black Sheep before because it's a beer-serious pub that's serving local craft beer. I'm ashamed to say I missed this Boston Globe article about the pub and its owners, Joe and Helena Wygal, until today. Actually the article is about the allure and challenges of retiring abroad, but there is plenty about the Black Sheep in there. For example: Joe is a craft beer enthusiast from Massachusetts and runs the pub as a non-profit, open on Saturdays only. If you're like me and pondering a visit, we'd better get on the stick. They're apparently trying to sell the place and move closer to San José.

Go here or here for more of Pinar's lovely photos from Nosara. After a closer look at her blog I learn she is a fellow Missouri alum. The world is awfully damned small sometimes.

Pinar: Thanks for letting me borrow the photo. I owe you a pint.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Old Beer. I Mean, Really Old.

Hip-hop head nod to Randy in Lustin for pointing out this article in yesterday's Scientific American. It revisits both the known and suspected origins of beer.*

The cold, hard, known part: Brewing is at least 6,000 years old. We "know" this as well as we can know anything that happened 6,000 years ago thanks to some Mesopotamian tablets that record beer trade.

Two obvious things worth mentioning about that cold, hard, known part: (1) We only know it because somebody was keeping records, and (2) those tablets were built to last. Bear in mind that not every ancient society excelled at record-keeping, and those that kept records did not always use materials that last six millenia and counting.

We can take "known" as far back as 9,000 years if we accept residue on old broken Chinese pots to be as authoritative as cuneiform tablets. And why shouldn't we?

Now, some scientists hate to speculate. Thank goodness there are some who can't seem to get enough of it.

So here's the soft, squishy, and far more interesting suspected part:

On top of that, beer is relatively easy to brew and can be made from just about anything—all you need is water, cooking heat and some form of carbohydrate, along with enzymes and yeast that are abundant in nature. (The yeast can come from fruit; the enzymes from saliva.) "It's pretty darn easy to make," Hastorf said. She cited colleagues who have advanced theories that humans first domesticated cereal crops to make beer, not just bread, and that humans evolved to associate ethanol, which is present in ripe fruit, with satiety. The various lines of evidence indicate that beer may well be as old as cooking itself, which began at least 250,000 years ago. "When people started harnessing fire and cooking, they probably started making beer," Hastorf said.
*If you're into this sort of thing, check out my recent Chicha Posts. The short version: Brewing is probably much older and more common than we think, and it's a myth that Native Americans neither made nor drank fermented beverages.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Reason to Stay in Brussels.

The news is out that Zythos, Belgium's largest association of beer lovers, is moving its annual Bier Festival to Leuven next year. It's also moving the date from March to late April (in 2012 it'll be April 28 and 29). Depending on what you thought of traveling to Sint-Niklaas, you might join me in cautious optimism.

Those who enjoyed basing themselves in Antwerp for ZBF could be disappointed. Leuven is farther south, but maybe that's welcome news for our Walloon friends. Also on the upside, Leuven has its own accommodations and attractions, including some interesting beer cafés and an impressive Grote Markt.

Here's what I like: Leuven is a quick train ride from Brussels. Less than 30 minutes, in fact. Organizers say they plan to organize a shuttle to carry fest-goers the 3km between the station and Brabanthal. Important information: The last train from back to Brussels departs at 11:10 p.m. Moeder Lambic should still be open for a while when you get back.

Even if you decide to make a long stroll of it instead, the weather is more likely to nicer in late April. No guarantees though. It's still Belgium. The best climate is usually indoors, with a glass of beer, some nibbles, and a friend or two-thousand.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Gone Swimming.

I used to live in Beer Paradise. The weather there mostly sucked. There were short spurts of long summer days ideal for growing barley and hops. Then there were long miserable winters ideal for staying indoors and drinking that which those crops produced.

Now I live in the Land that Beer Hath Forsaken. It's usually gorgeous out. Figures. We don't have Saison Dupont or Sierra Nevada, but we can just pick up and go surfing or sport-fishing or whatever.

I'm not much of a beach person actually. It's all that sand. Horrible stuff. However I am partial to warm weather, fresh seafood and hammocks. Trashy paperbacks and cold beer. Give me a chlorinated, sand-free swimming pool with an ocean view and a glass of beer and that's the best of all worlds.

At least we have Guinness Foreign Extra. Oh wait, now you do too? Damn.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sam Calagione Has a Dream.

I wouldn't normally interview fellow beer writers. I'd prefer to just drink with them. But when editors say "Jump!" I ask "How high?", do a couple armpit farts, and attempt a Triple Lindy.* So I'm writing an article about session beers, whatever those are, and my editor says I need to include the Session Beer Project. That would be the brainchild of beer writer Lew Bryson.

OK. Twist my arm.

So I was talking to Lew yesterday when he brought up this interview in the Atlantic with Sam Calagione. My first thought was, "Sam Calagione needs another piece in the Atlantic like he needs another nationally televised reality show." But I suppose the guy is as skilled an ambassador for craft beer as he is for his own brewery.

However, here are the question and quote that set Lew off:

What's a beer trend that you wish would go away?

See ice-cold beer! Above. Also, that session beers and extreme beers cannot peacefully coexist on the same shelf or within a brewer's portfolio...
Lew's response: "Who in the world thinks that? I don't think that."

The implication would appear to be that there is some groundswell of support for session beers out there, rather than just a handful of wishful writers and brewers, and that we want those extreme beers to get the hell out of our bars and our shops.

But that can't be right. It doesn't make sense. Every pro-session-beer type to whom I've spoken also loves strong beers, and beers of all sorts, and usually takes great pains to point that out. Instead, the rather obvious problem is that there are too few low-strength beers available, if any. Go ahead: Scan the strengths of your favorite brewery's range and see how many you find below 5%. Scan the draft list of your favorite taphouse. Practically speaking, besides a few wonderful exceptions, they just ain't there.

Sam Calagione is a smart guy. Therefore I assume he knows that very well. Therefore I choose to assume he is making a totally different implication. He is implying that taphouses and craft breweries should stop loading up their ranges with extreme beers, and start serving a few session beers to go along with them. So that they can finally coexist!**

In that case: Well put, Sam. Well put.

*"Is that hard?"
"It's impossible."

**Damn it, does this mean everyone's on the same side after all? Boring.

***Pictured: Behind the bar at ChurchKey. Just for fun, a scan of yesterday's draft list finds five beers below 5% abv: two German lagers, an English cask ale, and two English ciders. All coexisting peacefully with Bell's gorgeous Expedition Stout at 10.5%.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Session Beer Relativism. Or, Slippery Slopes. Or, I'm With Lew.

An interesting discussion has broken out here, initially among brewers and beer writers, about "session beer" and whether anyone can define it. (Hip-hop head nod to Alan.)

In particular I want to take issue with a few arguments there:
(1) the notion, put forward by Weyerbacher head honcho Dan Weirback, that a beer of 6% strength is a session beer because many people think it is.
(2) Jack Curtin's argument that (I'm paraphrasing) we shouldn't pin a number on the alcohol content of session beer because different people have different levels of tolerance.
(3) the suggestion that stronger beers can be sessionable if we just drink them more slowly.

A really nice thing about supporting an idea like "more session beer, please" is that we don't have to respect what is. We support what we think ought to be. People can confound our hopes. American craft brewers can keep making 6% and 7% craft beers because they perceive that it's what drinkers want. But I'm getting fairly sick of having them and some drinkers tell us that such beer is sessionable. No. It ain't. Not for anyone.

It was the largely fruitless hunt for more drinkable beer in the U.S. that led me to write this:

"[T]he market is the market, and I’m a critic by nature. Somebody has to step away from the endless subjectivism of 'to each his own.' Somewhere, we must draw a line and say, 'Enough of that bullshit. We ought to have more of this.'"

A much more compelling question, and one that I'm investigating now (stay tuned), is whether there is any money in making or selling the stuff. It might well be that there is generally more money in craft beers of higher alcohol levels. If that's true, we're simply asking for charity. And that would be a bigger and more interesting problem.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The World Can Always Use More Pub Guides.

More for your dreaming and/or planning purposes: Spotted via Facebook, a teasing glimpse of a new book: Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide. The author would be Max Bahnson, a.k.a. Pivní Filosof, a.k.a. Filósofo Cervecero, a.k.a. the Beer Philosopher--the Czech-based Argentine translator who blogs about beer in both English and Spanish. (FYI, the word "beertastic" translates to "cervestástico." A cunning linguist, as they say.)

The book's title is a clue that his guide will have a strong and useful perspective.

Set that one near your throne, right next to Evan Rail's Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic, and you'll be as prepared as a Boy Scout.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Word to Your Mother's.

Those guys in the photo, talking beer and drinking it, are Jeremy Wicks, Brian Allen and Jeff Schrag. Their new production brewery, called Mother's, is set to launch any day now in Springfield, Missouri.

That's my hometown. It's not really a small town, but it thinks and acts like one. I went to high school with Jeremy, who's the marketeer. Brian is the brewmaster. Jeff is the owner.

Thanks to my brother,* I met them just after Christmas at a place called Farmer's Gastropub--a good place that I'll tell you more about sometime. Jeff and Jeremy tell the jokes. Brian is the brewing veteran, the consummate pro who knows exactly what he's doing and why. Previously he made beer for Beer Works of Boston as well as Capital Brewing and Fox River of Wisconsin. My hunch is that these guys are going to do all right.

Mother's is a good name. On May 14 they're having a big party for Mother's Day, when they'll also launch their summer seasonal. There will be a pizza truck and a wiener truck. There will be a couple of excellent local bands, including Big Smith and Speakeasy. I went to high school with a bunch of those guys too. I swear this city has 160,000 people. You just have to take my word for that.

I've written about Springfield beer before. The Springfield Brewing Co. specializes in highly drinkable, technically perfect beers, most of which would not excite many geeks. They are ordinary craft beers made well by Mr. Wizard himself, Ashton Lewis. Earlier I speculated that there must be something in the water for a town to produce me, Brad Pitt, and such totally decent beer. Later Ashton told me that he strips all the water down to RO before rebuilding it. So much for that theory.

Mother's will have a tasting room. So now you know what to do when you stop in Springfield on your way down Route 66. Or visit the national headquarters of Bass Pro Shops. And Rad Brad knows what to do when he goes home for the holidays. I guess he will have to get Angelina's permision first. If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

The Pitts donated $1 million for a cancer treatment center in Springfield. It's named for Brad's own mother, Jane. See? That's just how we roll.

*My brother Ben sometimes writes about beer locally here. He also dreams of opening a micro. I dream of drinking there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Geuze, Geuze, and Non-Smoking News.

It only happens every other year. But that's twice as often as the World Cup or the Olympics, so let's count our blessings. The Toer de Geuze--Pajottenland's original lambic festival on wheels--is set for Sunday, May 1.

If you don't know: Nine lambic makers--Boon, De Cam, De Troch, Drie Fonteinen, Hanssens, Lindemans, Mort Subite, Oud Beersel and Timmermans--open their doors. They offer tours, beer and nibbles while buses carry happy people from one brewery or blendery to another.

Each bus takes a different route, so choose carefully. For lambic enthusiasts, an ideal route mixes a couple of old favorites with those you'd like to know better. For everyone else, it really doesn't matter. A bus will carry you around the countryside to visit five places offering the most unusual beers on Earth. What else do you need to know?

And if you go, like I did two years ago, you might just be lucky enough to see sausages on a coat rack. Or Armand Debelder in a bow tie.

Speaking of Mr. Debelder, I have a bit more info about that limited series of Drie Fonteinen blends, set to launch in May. Indeed the blends are comprised entirely of different lambics brewed at Drie Fonteinen before the thermostat disaster and the decision to stop brewing. Again, the goal of these special blends is to raise extra money to re-start brewing there. So it all fits.

Finally: Good news for Belgians and foreigners who like to smell and taste their beverages. Starting July 1 all Belgian bars and cafés must be non-smoking, says the constitutional court. Since the start of 2010 the ban had been limited to cafés that serve food, but even then "food" was loosely defined since pre-packaged foods like nuts and chips were allowed.

Now the only exception appears to be for separate smoking rooms with special ventilators... Is it hard to imagine one-room bars installing these vents? Or maybe Delirium will install these vents in all its rooms. Oh, hell. Another loophole through which we could drive a waffle truck.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Can Beer Do For You?

I already asked you if American craft beer has gone over the top. It's a loaded question, but I wrote an article about it anyway. It's in the latest issue of Draft and appeared on the website this morning.

Here's the nut of it: "Has the cool craft beer Fonz finally jumped the proverbial shark? Aren’t we forgetting about the Richie Cunninghams of the world, who just want a flavorful glass of something drinkable—or, preferably, several glasses—in a friendly place at a fair price?"

I'd like to see more of that. No surprise if you read this blog on occasion.

Here's what I'd like to know: What would you like to see? What can breweries or pubs in your region or country do better for you?

And do you have an opportunity to vote for that preference with your hard-earned duckets?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flying Gnomes, Belgian Humor, and Aroma Hop Delivery Devices.

Thanks again to my friend and fellow Midwesterner Stefan Berggren, who just gives and gives and gets so little back in return. He's the one who spotted this Smisje label and sent it to me.

Remember the flying Chouffe video?

Speaking of Smisje: At last weekend's ZBF it made use of Dogfish Head's famous Randall the Enamel Animal. Have a look here, courtesy of Filip Geerts and his Belgian Beer Board. The strong pale Smiske ale got big smelly boosts from American Cascade and Palisade hops. So, any of you try it? How was it?

Back to the Midwest: Going to the Windy City anytime soon? Handy little article here from Time Out Chicago on spots to find small-batch beer, wine and booze. I note especially the Publican, which serves Becasse-inspired sweet lambic from earthenware jugs. In the future, all beer will be served from earthenware jugs. History is cyclical like that.

Speaking of the Midwest, again, this will be the 25th year for the Great Taste thereof. That's in Madison. That's where Stefan lives. My room is booked. He'll get what's coming to him. Meanwhile, good luck to anyone trying to peel me away from the real ale tent.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Edgy Beers in Germany's Capital.

For your next trip to Berlin: Enjoy Sabrina Small's article in DRAFT Magazine on the city's punk rock brewers. There are IPAs, Rauchbiers, Winterbocks, and revivalist Berliner Weisses. Definitely more going on there now than when I last visited in late 2008.

The highlight of our trip then was Brewbaker, a foodie-friendly brewpub. It didn't make it into Sabrina's article. Maybe it wasn't punk rock enough, but then I'm pretty happy with a plate of pork and the sort of crisply hopped, unfiltered pils in which the local brewpubs seemed to specialize.

But then, here's what Wilko Bereit of Rollberg says about his product: "I make simple, unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that tastes good and is good to get drunk on."

Honesty in advertising. OK, I'm sold.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Win a Comfy Bus Ride to Brussels. Then Drink Beer.

CAMRA are giving away a round-trip bus ride from London to Brussels. On one of those nice buses with the TVs and A/C and big pockets for your magazines. Check it out. To be eligible, you only need to:

(1) Buy a copy of Around Brussels in 80 Beers, Around Bruges in 80 Beers, Good Beer Guide Belgium, or LambicLand from the CAMRA shop. Yes, I know you already have multiple copies of all of them. But you can always use one more. Yes, I know you already gave copies to mom, grandma and second cousins. Thank you for that. But what about your next-door neighbor? Now's the time to start mending bridges with him.

(2) Be British. This contest is for UK citizens only.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Midnight in the Cervecería of Good and Evil.

In November I reported on plans for what would appear to be El Salvador's first microbrewery. It would be another small boost for Central America, a.k.a the land that beer forgot. Now time for an update.

A few days ago I received a note from Salvadoran brewer David Falkenstein, one of the people behind that project. The schedule is changing even as plans become more ambitious.

Originally the hope was to open in March or April 2011 in conjunction with an existing San Salvador pub. Now, Falkenstein says, the plan is to build a 10-hectoliter brewhouse that would distribute kegs and bottles to bars and other customers. It would be similar to what's happening at Costa Rica's Craft Brewing in Cartago, with whom Falkenstein has been in contact. Craft beer types gotta stick together, after all.

The hopeful date is now August 2011, but that depends on the lawyers completing all the permits in a timely manner. "The timeline for our project certainly keeps slipping but I guess this is the nature of the beast," Falkenstein says. Indeed.

The brewery also has a name: Cadejo Brewing Company. The cadejo is an interesting piece of Central American folklore. The cadejos are dog-like creatures, and there are two of them: white and black. Good and evil. Like yin and yang with a chupacabra twist.

Says Falkenstein: "The black dog is supposed to scare 'borrachos' [drunks] on the roads at night and the white dog protects good people, so it's sort of a ying yang thing. However many people mistakenly think the cadejo is the dog of the devil so the name will certainly create some controversy in our uber-religious country, but we are looking to stir things up a bit so we are going with it."

Meanwhile: I'm hoping for a jaunt to Panama City early next month. There's a brewpub there. And a beery German resto. And a shop that sells Sierra Nevada.

Pictured: a stout from Costa Rica's Craft Brewing. A keg-only special release for St. Patrick's Day. A well-brewed balance of mocha sweetness, light roast bitterness, and the Q-word. Quaffability. The sort of beer that many American micros do well and many craft beer drinkers take for granted.

I don't think anyone down here will be making that mistake.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Special Lambic Series to Help Fund New 3 Fonteinen Brewery.

A bit more info for followers of Drie Fonteinen, following the news last week that it may start brewing its own lambic again.

According to an e-mail from blender Armand Debelder and wife Lydie Hulpiau, they hope they will raise enough money to pay for a new brewing system. The idea is to launch a limited series of four special beers starting in May of this year (possibly in time for the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation?). They said the series is unnamed as of yet, in the meantime referring to it as a "single 3 Fonteinen blend."

I'm only speculating, but it might be a blend of lambics brewed only at Drie Fonteinen before the decision to stop brewing last January. But that's only speculation. I've asked for clarification.

More from the e-mail: "We have 4 different bottle dates of this blend and thus will have 4 different releases, we hope that collectors will buy a set of 4! These bottles will be rather expensive and with that money we hope to be able to buy a new brewing installation. So please keep your fingers crossed for our sales......"

More speculation: The chances are pretty good of this all working out. We all know there are folks out there willing to pay extra for rare lambics from top producers. And we know that there are Debelder fans willing to pay more for a product (see: Armand'Spirit) that furthers the Drie Fonteinen cause. And many of those people like to read this blog.

So, let me ask you: Are you interested?

Armand and Lydie also add that sales of their mixed-fermentation black beer, brewed for Drie Fonteinen by Proef, is "running like a train" and that they're all sold out of the stuff on premises.

Overall, I'd say things are looking up in Beersel these days.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Session: The Passing of a Regular Beer Legend.

There has been a death in the family, so far unnoticed by most of us. He was not a California beer writer nor British ale brewer nor longtime Belgian café owner. He was Rupprecht Loeffler, venerable brewmaster of the Cervejaria Canoinhense, said to be Brazil's oldest craft brewery. He was 93.

I got the note a couple of days ago from reader Felipe Lorenzen. "The brewery was founded by Rupprecht's father in 1908 and the same oak barrels, brought by Rupprecht's father from Germany, are still used to ferment the low-alcohol beer produced by the Canoinhense brewery."

Loeffler appears to have been a local legend, and his face appeared on postage stamps in the southern town of Canoinhas. Lorenzen says the brewery was better known for its historical significance than for the flavor profile of its beers. The strongest made by Canoinhense is the blonde Jahu, at 4.5% strength. The Schwarz-like No'de Pinho, or "Pine Knot," checks in at 3.2%. A dark Malzbier is 3.2%, as is the lighter blonde Mocinha.

The low alcohol suggests high drinkability, but it's hard to know without tasting them. I haven't. There are a few notes on Ratebeer, which broadly suggest a sweet, malty character combined with a tart, fruity, vinous quality. The latter may have something to do with fermenting in 100-year-old casks. Regular yet irregular. It's not popular with that tiny handful of raters. But I wonder.

Old German-style beers, wooden casks, very low alcohol. It reminds me of a mental image I kept from Maureen Ogle's book, Ambitious Brew. It's an image of German migrants in the 1850s spending their Saturdays in large, brewery-owned "pleasure gardens," sharing gossip, playing sports, watching the tykes run in circles, and drinking brown lager of a pleasant but non-intoxicating 3 percent alcohol. Regular beers.

I kept that image because I want to be part of it. My own German grandfather wouldn't come to America for another 80 years--holding his secretly pregnant mom's hand aboard a ship from Hamburg--but I can't help but think that those were my people. And that would have been my beer.

Maybe Canoinhense is a relic of an earlier time, or maybe it evolved and took on a life of its own. Maybe both. Maybe the most remarkable thing about Cervejaria Canoinhense is that it survived. As Felipe says, "You sure know how hard is to survive brewing beer different than pale lager produced by big companies in South America." Maybe I'll get to visit sometime, taste the beers, and form my own conclusions. In the meantime all reports are welcome.

Regardless, a legend has passed. I thought you might want to know.

*Thanks again to Felipe for the note. Photo comes from Wikipedia Commons. This post is my contribution to Session #49.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Buy Books and Support Our Women.

Not long ago, Mr. De Baets and I learned that sales of Around Brussels in 80 Beers had covered all the expenses of publishing it. Thus we enter the realm of pure profit, of which we get a share.

What I mean to say is, keep buying books. Buy them all--as gifts, one for each room of your house, whatever--so one day maybe we can take Kelly and Katherine out somewhere nice for a change.

Do it for them.

Drie Fonteinen to Brew Again? And Other News.

You might think there is a limit to my ability to get Belgian beer scoops from Central American soil. You'd be exactly right. My friend Chuck Cook is exploiting that limit ruthlessly. But he's just doing what he always does: packing lots of info-gathering and photo-snapping into another brief jaunt through Beer Paradise.* Also look way down below for tips on ZBF weekend.

Today Cook reports that Drie Fonteinen master blender Armand Debelder is "likely" to start brewing his own lambic again. As I reported last January, Debelder decided to stop brewing his own lambic and re-focus on blending his famous geuzes. "I'm not brewing anymore. That's definite," he said. This was partly because of the expense, and partly because of his age. He is approaching 60 and brewing meant long, exerting work days. However, Cook reports that Debelder has hired an assistant, which appears to be the neat answer to that problem.

Also, geuze blenders use different lambics to achieve their final product, and Debelder had an exacting recipe for his house-made portion. The idea was to have Frank Boon duplicate the recipe especially for Drie Fonteinen, but that was never going to be an ideal solution.

Cook also reports that a lambic-oriented visitor's center will open in Pajottenland in mid-May. Cook says it will be 3 km from Beersel.

Now here I've really failed you, because it's right here in my notebook from last January: "2011 - Oude Geuze Visitors Center. In Alsemberg. For HORAL members. Four languages: Dutch, French, English, German. Some help from Flemish government." Just another one of those things that got lost in the move. Sorry about that.

After the bit about the Flemish government, my notes say that Debelder whistled and said, "They've got lots of money for that!" The part about HORAL members suggests that the center will showcase mainly Pajottenland brewers: Boon, De Cam, De Troch, Drie Fonteinen, Girardin, Hanssens, Lindemans, Oud Beersel and Timmermans. Note that Cantillon is not an HORAL member.

The center potentially will be an exciting place for beer travelers to visit. No doubt there will be lambics to taste and probably cheese for nibbling. Time will tell if it's a worthy substitute for a visit to Cantillon, an earthenware mug of kriekenlambic while admiring the finches at De Cam, or a Pajottenland salmon and vintage geuze at Drie Fonteinen's restaurant.

ZBF weekend: Lots of you are in Belgium for lots of activities. Be well to each other and spread those festival tokens around. Look here for my post on various happenings. Be aware that transit strikes will slow things down, but apparently not cripple them. Belgian railways are running normally. Brussels-area metro, trams and buses will be about two-thirds normal. The De Lijn buses might have issues.

But for all the main events, I think all you'd need is a train ticket and a good pair of shoes. Happy drinking, pilgrims.

*Yes, it stings a little. No worries. I'll treat the wound right away with homebrew and sunshine.

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.