In Russia that is. When I worked in Poland not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the same shop sold you your bread and your beer and instead of excusing yourself past over-loaded grocery carts, you had to weave through the weaving neighbourhood gents. As part of a crackdown on its similar problem, the Russian government has also restricted beer ads:
Russia introduced tough beer advertising laws in September, banning commercials between the hours of 0700 and 2200. The use of people and animals in beer ads will be prohibited as of next year.Thank heavens! The use of animals in Russian TV beer ads was a shameless scourge that was encouraging animals down a very slippery slope. These three gents used to breed siamese cats. Look at them now!
Cold November late afternoon. I'm entering an ordinary bar in Bayonne, in front of the market. There are half a dozen of customers, drinking coffee, tea, milk with chocolate. The bartender says a loud “hello” as I sit at the bar. I often sit on bar chair, lean on the counter.
Bartender: What will you?...Only Kronenbourg. All right. It's not the best beer, but if there's no choice...in France, when you order beer, the usual glass is the demi. France invented metric system, but some remains of the old days are still alive. A demi is in fact about half a pint, rounded to be 250ml. While a pint is being named distingué, and a liter of beer is a formidable (which I think means "smashing" - who knows why?)
Me: Well... What kind of beer on draught do you have?
Me: How much?France had changed its currency in the beginning of the century, as millions of people in Europe. Now, everyone counts in Euros, which are about a USD worth. Prices on everyday products are rising at a dangerous rate, not only because of the economic crisis. The government raises heavy taxes on alcohol (and tobacco) to struggle against alcohol and tobacco-addiction.
Bartender: Two euros.
Kronenbourg. The ordinary beer. Low price. Low quality. Better draught than from a bottle, though. As I am sipping my glass, I'm looking in front of me. There are shelves, with bottles on them. A lot of them are not beer, in fact. Strong alcohols, mainly. Four bottles of beer on the shelf. Adelscott (a smoked malt beer, with a sweet sugar-like taste), Leffe Blonde (a Belgian you may have already read about), Blanche de Bruges (a Belgian wheat beer), and Pelforth Brune (a French brown beer, very good in fact). Well... That's not large as a choice as the newly born beer writer might want.
A man enters the bar. He says something I don't get to the bartender. It's obviously Basque (or Euskara), one of the oldest languages in the world, and maybe the oldest tongue in Europe. This language comes from “nowhere”. Well... not really from nowhere, but actually no one knows exactly where and when it comes from. The Basque culture is really alive and strong in the Basque Country population, and its unique language is one of the most important part of it. I often see the colorful sticker "Euskara badakigu" on the door of some shops, or bars, it means "Here, we speak Basque".
I assume that the bartender and the customer are talking about the latest rugby results. Rugby is the most important sport in the south-west France, way more than football (yeah, it's not soccer here - it's football). And Bayonne has a long rivalry with Biarritz. The two cities are five miles away and the two rubgy teams are deadly enemies. It's the fight against the rich-and-smart city (Biarritz), with a bunch of highly-paid stars playing in the team, against the popular and young student populated one (Bayonne). The discussion between the bartender and the customer is now part French, part Euskara.
My glass is empty now. I've got to leave. The sun is low on the horizon. Usually, November is a rainy month on the coast. By the way... every month is rainy, here. There are many bars in Bayonne, maybe too many. All kinds of bars. From the Irish-ish pub to the Cuban bar, from the upper-class café to the drunken factoryman's hangout. But I really need to find a good bar specializing in good beers.
The other day I wrote about the US Beer Hall of Fame proposed for Cincinnati and asked for anyone who could give me an answer why this was necessary. Well I got an answer - direct from the man behind the initiative, Dennis Buettner, President of Leisure Technician LLC. His company which presents itself to the public under the banner of the U.S. Beer Drinking Team, which could give you an idea about the content that I would like to partially dispel. The USBDT has a website, beer radio, beer television and a Hall of Fame to build - it even has a logo which plays upon the one for Major League Baseball. Unlike the few episodes of Beer TV as seen over and over recently in Canada during the graveyard hours of lesser networks, which was really nothing more than an attractive info-mercial for the then mega-corp Interbrew (now InBev due apparently to the need to have names with fewer and fewer letters in them) and its line of products, Dennis's group of initiatives do not appear to select one brewer or even sector over another. There is discussion of macros, regionals, micros and homebrewers. This is good as it adds credibility and also creates an expectation that the content might still be fresh a year from now.
I will look at the other media Dennis and his company uses later but today I will focus on Beer Radio. He was kind enough to share a link to an archived broadcast of Beer Radio [30 MB, streaming] which I listened to the other day. If you are aware of US local AM radio these days, you will know about syndication. It is a means by which stations can buy programming prepared by independent producers. Beer Radio is a three hour example of this. Its tone is rather enthusiastic, a little bombastic, which is a little different for your average CBC, BBC or NPR listener, but its content makes a real effort to be comprehensive and that puts the tone in context. You get stories on the upside of beer and health encouraging you to be active, information about the industry as a whole, as well as interviews with people involved with larger US micros - people apparently without a direct financial stake in Leisure Technician LLC. As a result, the program presents itself as an advocate and resource for the person who wants to know more about beer and wants to get behind the ads - sometimes a difficult thing in an area of the economy with often does not receive the critical analysis its size would otherwise attract. Did you know beer is a bigger part of the economoy than movies, video games and other forms of entertainment? I do now and the numbers appear to add up. Nothing like the industrial role brewing played a couple of hundred years ago as the first large-scale manufactured product but still big.
Dennis has sent me a toll-free phone number and an invite to call - which I will take up when I have enough information to ask some intelligent questions - but for now it is great that he is insterested enough to take the time and get in touch with others who are interested. Bodes very well.
In a quick moment of research looking up Lisa's beers in the previous post, I came across this reference to an old pal from this website:
Gdanskie: 6.2%. Pale lager. From the now closed Hevelius brewery in Gdansk.Finding this stuff in a corner store in the Baltic provinces of Poland in 1991 was gold. I saved a label which says that it was 4.5% then.
Dreher Classic, Krusovice Cerne, Borsod Bivaly
Hot in from Budapest is a digital photo of three brews picked up by Lisa shopping today. She tells us:
I've attached a photo of some beers I bought at the grocery store. I know that the one with the bull on the front is probably pretty crappy. The Czech beer looks okay though. The Dreher is a once local brewer which has been bought out by the Germans. Are any of these worth trying?Of course the answer is always "YES!" The middle calls itself a Bohemian Swartzbeer, or black lager. My Hungarian is rather weak these days so I don't know that the claim to a style is a guarantee that that is the style you will get. In Poland in 1991, our supplies of Zywiec were strangely spiced with cloves rather than hops one week. Disconcerting for a while.
Lisa can add notes here. Click on the beer names under the photo for the Beer Advocate reviews.
This is one of my favorite winter stouts, a real foreign stout. A foreign stout was a high test export ready stout created to survive a sail. Imperial Stouts, dry and roasty at pushing 10%, were originally created for the Baltic trade between England and the northern Slavs in the late 1700s and early 1800s. This sweeter and, at 6.6%, not so incredibly strong style was for the Caribbean trade. It is a little odd to describe - like a Coke meeting a cold mug of cocoa. There must be some lactose in the brew, an unfermentable sugar found in milk that leaves a sweet malty creamy base over and through which the moderate hops cut. Very pleasant.
Alba Pine, Fraoch Heather, Ebulum Elderberry, Grozet Gooseberry
I buy this four 330 ml bottle boxed set every Christmas at the LCBO for no doubt an exorbident price given all the fancy packaging. What I do not understand is why the beers in this promotional package are not otherwise available as singles. What exactly is being promoted? Anyway, the best thing is that these are all good beers and worth comparing even if each is more or less a unique style on its own.
These beers are made by Heather Ale Ltd. which also brews a full range of cask ales under the "Craigmill Brewery" brand and bottles Craigmill Swallow IPA. It is located in a 18th Century water mill on the river Avon, near Glasgow, in Strathaven, Lanarkshire. The web site for the brewery has a shop for readers in the UK to try and does indicate that single-brand cases can be bought, including cases of Kelpie, a seaweed beer, which is not included in the fourpack. Here is what I think of the four brews that are:
- Alba Pine Ale: The label tells me that:
Alba is a "triple" style ale, brewed to a traditional Highland recipe using the sprigs of spruce and pine collected in May 1998. This complex rich tawny ale is best drunk at room temperature from a wine goblet. Ingredients: malted barley bree, scots pine and spruce sprigs.I remember thinking before I had tried this ale that I had better brace for something resembling a 1960s institutional floor cleaning liquid. Nothing of the kind. This brew is very well structured with a big malt and sweet pine green front end. It is pretty apparent that there are no hops leaving any bitter edge. Rather the spruce and pine leaves a slight astringency and aromatic heat in the mouth that serves the same function as hops, cutting the cloy of the malt. While the brewer uses the word triple, implying a form of strong Belgian ale, I think that the malty and herbal taste at 7.5% is more analogous to a Belgian dubble.
The beer is reddish brown with a very nice tan head that faded quickly unsupported by the low carbination leaving just a rich rim inside the glass. There is lots of woodsy fruit in the glass as well as some whiskey, perhaps smokey notes. At the Beer Advocate, all but 5% of 105 reviewers give it a thumbs up, something I would not have expected for such a unique ale. The finish is orange peel, butterscotch, some heat yet a fresh juiciness quality that would make this rather more-ish if it were available-ish from the LCBO-ish.
- Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale: black ale this beer calls itself. It is really an oatmeal stout with fruit flavouring but that is besides the point - the point being that this is very good stout. Elderberry is an ornamental plant here in Canada which grannies grow on their front lawns and make jelly from in the autumn. It is a lovely small fruit bush and, when mature, very productive providing masses of the tart, woodsy, dark grapey berries. It is not that far off a blackberry or what some call a thimble berry but , unlike those, is not shaped like a dark raspberry. It is the perfect compliment to the roastiness and silkiness of an oatmeal stout. The bottle says:
It is a rich black ale with fruit aroma, soft texture, roasted grain and red wine flavour, with a gentle finish. Ingredients: malted barley bree, elderberries, roasted oats & barley and hops.It is interesting to note that there is no style called a "black ale" though there is a central European one called Schwartzbeer - but it is a lager. Beer advocatonians pick up the red wine comment and compare to port. Given the truly vineous nature of lambics and other soured beers, I think this is a bit of a red herring but it is not devoid of merit. Again, it is utterly beyond me why the LCBO does not stock the 500 ml bottles as a standing order when it brings this boxed set in each Yule.
I am confused as to the use of "barley-bree" on the lable as I understand this to reference a finished ale, implying I think incorrectly that the other ingredients are infused into that finished ale. I do not think that is the process being employed here given that roasted oats, unmalted, would create a problem with stability if it were merely infused.
- Grozet Gooseberry Lager: This deep straw coloured lager pours out quite still, the white head diffusing immediately. The berry flavour is much more forward than in the Ebulum giving a very tangy prominant overtone. It is citrusy - a combination of lemon/orange/lime. The bottle tell us that the ingredients include malted barley bree, wheat, gooseberies, hops, bogmyrtle and meadowsweet - the last two being traditional Scots wild herbs used before hops came to the UK in the 16th century. Unhappy beer advocatonians do not appreciate the goosebeery flavour but as the best dessert I ever ate was a gooseberry-pear pie, I am not worried. The gooseberry matches the tang of the wheat very nicely.
- Fraoch Heather Ale: Heather is a lovely thing and, being a Scottish immigrants kid who grew up in New Scotland, a pretty pervasive symbol in my life. Unlike hops, which is a robust annual vine that can grow to hundreds of feet, heather is a low bush that grows in pretty marginal rough places. It has both a sweetness like clover, twigginess and floral blossom aspects. This comes out in the ale, which is otherwise a fairly neutral low-medium pale ale. There is some fruit in the grain which joins with the sweetness of the heather nicely. There is an lavender-orangey thing to it but woodsy rather than fine. The finish is just off-dry and flavourful. Beer advocation is positive. From the brewery's website, this interesting technique to infuse the beer is explained:
Into the boiling bree of malted barley, sweet gale and flowering heather are added, then after cooling slightly the hot ale is poured into a vat of fresh heather flowers where it infuses for an hour before being fermented.For me, that is a better use of the infusion description. This one would be a very good every day ale if it were actually for sale here...every day.
If it were not for the word "beer", this story might not have been reported, at least not in the West:
GAUHATI, India — Wild elephant herds have been terrorizing India's remote northeast, killing people, flattening houses and even guzzling local rice-beer supplies, prompting villagers to retaliate against the pachyderms with firecrackers and bonfires... Rice beer is an attraction. Workers in tea plantations in Assam make rice beer at home and store it in drums. On Oct. 26, wild elephants drank rice beer kept in drums in Marongi, a village about 175 miles east of Assam's main city of Gauhati, and then went on a rampage, trampling three people to death and wounding two others, India media reported.A search for more information finds quite a number of other media outlets repeating the same story, using the same phrase "beer-swilling elephants terrorize Indian villages" as the headline. "Beer-swilling, puck-chasing hoser", however, is another use of "beer-swilling" which apparently relates to Canadians rather than elephants.