Prepared for the food and beer pairing…
Other than publishing the latest Edinburgh Beer Weekly, things have been pretty quiet on the BeerCast over the last few days. That’s because I’ve been away, out of both offices (real and imaginary, beer-related), attending the 2012 European Beer Bloggers Conference in Leeds. It was a great weekend, with equally large measures of information and beer to take in. Over the next three days, I’ll put up posts about the conference – looking at the best beers we tried, the great brewery we visited, and first, the most interesting quotes…
In Sweden people ask for a ‘big-strong’
Although European in name, the conference inevitably leaned towards UK blogging and the British beer industry – so it was great to meet and hear from several of the people who had journeyed from over the Channel. The above quote is from Pelle Stridh, Chairman of the Swedish Guild of Beer Writers, describing what many drinkers there ask for in bars – the largest measure of the strongest beer on offer, regardless of brand or quality.
Despite the cultural differences, it seems that European beer bloggers have a similar relationship to their microbreweries as we do – smaller breweries welcome the support, whereas the large established producers can be more aloof. Sweden’s beer scene has flourished – they now have a similar number of breweries as Scotland (just over 60) – but in the mid 1990’s there were around 7. Craft big-strong, anyone?
Leave calling cards, not gravestones
Technical issues are really not my speciality – I do just the words, by and large. Practically ever other smiling face under mine on the BeerCast homepage are the crack team of tech support who hold everything together. The Conference had two detailed sessions on blog hosting platforms and social media – both of which I found fascinating and almost impossible to understand. Visua.ly? klout? YARPP? #notaclue
Pushing your blog as if it’s a brand goes against the entire spirit of the enterprise in my opinion – but that’s the way things are, with the many online stages to shout your message from. It’s important not to spread that message too thinly, though – if you can’t keep updating everything, they can become internet ‘gravestones’ and will benefit nobody. Pintrest is the new thing, apparently – and no, it’s not a new beer mat.
The glass is the loudspeaker, the beer is the music
One of the most interesting sessions was the ‘comparative glassware demonstration’ run by the German company Spiegelau. After having been presented with a set of four extremely thin, very fancy beer glasses, we went on to taste different beers in them, and discuss the differences. Also present was a standard pub pint glass – looking archaic and chunky by comparison – to act as the ‘control’ [average pub lifespan – two weeks].
I’m a firm believer in the power of suggestion, but to me the beer very definitely smelled and tasted different in the glasses. Not just between the 80p pub chucker and a bespoke Spiegelau, either. Pour a Camden Wheat into their wheat beer glass, and their tall, thin pilsner glass – the latter cuts off the aroma almost completely, even though it (like each of it’s stablemates) costs £7. It was all fascinating stuff.
UPDATE – I have already chipped one of my Spiegelau glasses…
The newest American hop smells like blueberry cheesecake
Paul Corbett from Charles Faram then gave a tremendous talk on the hop industry. We all love the little buggers, but how many keyboard superheroes actually know anything about them? For instance, I always thought hops were grown in Kent and Herefordshire because of climate, but apparently it’s because the sites were near to London and Birmingham, and hence a steady supply of annual hop picking labour (who arrived on special trains).
Also, New Zealand. Massively popular for the cones these days, yet with only 14 farms spread over a mere 380ha – it ranks just twelfth on the global hop chart. How many beers do you drink that are hopped with Turkish varieties? They produce almost the same amount as the Kiwis. Hop varieties come and go – bad news if you’re a fan of Riwaka, Wai-iti, Magnum and Amarillo, but good news if you like cheesecake (new US hop – Mosaic). Should be cherry pie flavour, surely?
Sharp’s is the shining light of MolsonCoors
The keynote address was from Stuart Howe, head brewer at Sharp’s in Cornwall. Recently acquired by MolsonCoors, Stuart was keen to set the record straight on that count – “They bought us because we were so innovative, and although globally they aren’t having a good time – we are their shining light.” He also revealed that his resignation letter was written for their first meeting, but was reassured by their promise to leave Sharp’s alone – and MC’s stable management structure compared to the Venture Capitalists who previously ran Sharp’s.
Stuart was very amusing to listen to – he fired through his speech like Lincoln at Gettysburg – also delighting the crowd by saying he admired the way bloggers can’t be influenced, and that brewers do make alterations based on constructive criticism. Even working in giant production monotony can be useful, he said (not MC; a previous job of his) – “Making anonymous fluid makes you learn a lot about consistency.”
I’m the thirsty brewmaster!
The final evening showpiece was a sponsored schmooze-fest from Pilsner Urquell, at Anthony’s restaurant in the Leeds corn exchange. Following a conference-closing discussion on the ethics of accepting freebies, we all dripped with irony in our PU polo shirts and tie-pins [tie not included], drinking unfiltered cask PU and eating food cooked with the beer (presumably). Yes, it was cheesy. But hell, a bit of PR never hurt anybody. Although the day brewery t-shirts come in Medium will be a happy one, in my book.
The thirsty brewmaster himself also made an appearance, arriving to tap the first cask of the evening and give us a short story on the secret of Pilsner Urquell (to me, it seems to involve trout and male models who can pour a lager). Václav Berka is a larger than life character, and chuckled his way through the evening, appearing every now and then to stoke things up. The dinner was great, and the beer a revelation. The pretzels weren’t bad, either.
Many thanks to Alan and Elle at Zephyr Adventures for running the course with such a high level of relaxed professionalism, and to sponsor Molson Coors for covering the costs of attending. Yes, full disclosure – big beer bought my ticket. Tomorrow I’ll be writing about the best beers we had over the four days, including a quick-fire live tasting session with some very mixed results…