Category Archives: International

Seeking Local Beer

I have just returned from twelve days in the Netherlands. While there, I spent time in three different places – Amsterdam, Groningen, and Dalfsen. In many respects these three places could not be more different. Amsterdam is the country’s vibrant and bustling capital city (although not the seat of the Dutch government interestingly), with a population of over 850,000. Groningen is a city of just over 200,000, almost a third of whom are students at either the University of Groningen or the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Dalfsen, in sharp contrast, is a small agricultural town of approximately 8,500 people. It is located approximately equidistant from Amsterdam and Groningen.

Brouwerij Martinus in Groningen

Whenever I travel I try to drink local beer. I do so for a number of reasons. I like to support local breweries, the beer is as fresh as it can possibly be, and often I get to sample beers that I cannot get back home. As I travelled through the Netherlands on this particular trip it struck me (not for the first time) the way in which my definition and expectations of what is local beer has evolved over the years. I first visited the Netherlands in 1982 and at that time drinking local meant drinking beers such as Heineken, Grolsch, or Bavaria. The Dutch micro brewing movement was just beginning to emerge. By 2015 there were 238 microbreweries in the Netherlands. The appearance of so many microbreweries in the Netherlands, and other countries, has, for me at least, changed what it means to drink local beer. Drinking local once meant drinking Dutch beer in the Netherlands, Danish beer in Denmark, and Japanese beer in Japan. But thanks to the growing popularity of craft beer in the United States and beyond, drinking local now means drinking Amsterdam-brewedbeer in Amsterdam, Copenhagen-brewed beer in Copenhagen, and Tokyo-brewed beer in Tokyo.

Amsterdam’s Brouwerij de Prael

And this is exactly what I did when I was in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam I drank beer brewed by three of the cities breweries – Brouwerij de Prael, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, and, Stoombierbrouwerij De Bekeerde Suster. While in Groningen I consumed beer brewed by Brouwerij Groninger, and Brouwerij Martinus. And even in the idyllic community of Dalfsen, I was able to enjoy a couple of different brews from the local Vechtdal Brouwerij. I was surprised to find that Dalfsen had a brewery. I had visited several Amsterdam brewpubs on previous visits to the city and felt sure that a city the size of Groningen would have several craft breweries. But Dalfsen is a small community, so I had not expected to find one there. The brewery, located in a former indoor sports facility, was opened in October 2016.

Dalfsen’s Vechtdal Brouwerij

The Netherlands is not a large country. It has a population of just over seventeen million. It is just over sixteen thousand square miles in area, making it larger than Maryland but smaller than West Virginia. From a population-size peprespective it is closest to the state of New York which has a population of nearly twenty million. New York has 269 craft breweries. So with 238 craft breweries the Netherlands has a very similar number on a per capita basis. So perhaps I should not have been surprised to have found a brewery in Dalfsen.  Go to Lake George, New York (population ~3,500) and you will find the Adirondack Pub and Brewery.

The Netherlands superimposed over northwest Ohio/southeastern Michigan
A weizen from Dalfsen’s Vechtdal

While I have come to expect being able to find a craft brewery in many of America’s smaller communities, the same reality is also becoming increasingly true in European countries. The United Kingdom, for example, has  over 1,800 microbreweries, while Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy have over 700, 650, 550, and 500 respectively. And the number is growing each year. My colleague, Dr. Giulia Pezzi of the Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila, Italy has written about the small Italian town of Appechio. Located in the Marche region, Appechio, with just over two thousand residents is home to three craft breweries.

It is, undoubtedly, a great time to be a beer drinker. And with each passing day it gets better, as new breweries open their doors. Later this month I travel to Italy and Poland. The trip will include three stops in Italy (L’Aquila, Cagliari, and Rome) and two in Poland (Warsaw and Czestochowa).  In each place I look forward to seeking out the most local beer available.

Further reading:

Pezzi, Maria Giulia. 2017. From peripheral hamlet to craft beer capital: Apecchio and the ‘Alogastronomia’.  Italian Journal of Planning Practice, Volume 7, Number 1, Pages 154-185.

 

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

This is my third entry about my recent trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. You can read my other two entries here and here. I was there to attend, Beeronomics 2017, the biennial conference of the Beeronomics Society.

Carlsberg is Denmark’s largest brewer. Tuborg was once an independent brewery but is now owned by Carlsberg

Let’s begin with some facts about the Danish brewing industry and beer market. When it comes to beer Denmark is, in many ways, a very unremarkable country. The Danes themselves are not particularly big beer drinkers. Their average annual consumption of sixty litres per capita places them nineteenth in the European Union; well behind Europe’s leading beer drinkers, the Czech Republic whose residents in 2015 consumed an average of 143 litres per capita. Indeed, Danish  beer consumption per capita  decreased by thirteen percent between 2010 and 2015. With a fifty-three percent market share Carlsberg is the most important brewer in Denmark. Second place is held by Royal Unibrew who have a twenty-five percent market share. The most popular style of beer is Pilsner, which accounts for eighty percent of the Danish beer market. Craft beer accounts for approximately five percent of the volume of beer sold in Denmark; this is up from ~two percent in 2005. Of the 150 breweries in Denmark, one hunded are microbreweries. Interest in and demand for craft beer started much later in Denmark than in the United States, with some commentators signaling 2002 as a watershed year for the Danish craft beer industry. Between 2002 and 2008 the number of breweries in Denmark increased from nineteen to one hundred.

Nørrebro Bryghus is housed in an 1856 building
Rosemary, my friendly and efficient bartender, at Nørrebro Bryghus

I was able to visit two of Denmark’s microbreweries while in Copenhagen – Nørrebro Bryghus and Warpigs. Nørrebro Bryghus is named after the Copenhagen neighborhood (Nørrebro) where it is located.  It seems an appropriate neighborhood for a craft brewery; it was recently ranked as the twelfth most hipster neighborhood in Europe.  Nørrebro Bryghus was opened in 2003 by former Carlsberg brewmaster Anders Kissmeyer. Like many European craft brewers, Kissmeyer was inspired by the craft brewing movement in the United States. Specifically, he found inspiration from brewmaster Garrett Oliver, whom he met on a visit to Brooklyn Brewery. Nørrebro Bryghus made international headlines earlier this year when they made a beer using malted barley that had been fertilized by the 50,000 litres of urine that had been generated from 2015 Roskilde Music Festival. The brew, appropriately enough, was called Pisner and Nørrebro Bryghus became known as the brewery that puts the “P” in Pilsner. The Nørrebro Bryghus brewpub that I visited is located in an 1857 building. There is a second production brewery about twenty minutes away. The beers brewed in the Nørrebro Bryghus are listed on green chalkboards in the taproom while those brewed at the other location are on black chalkboards. I tried a number of Nørrebro’a beers on my two visits to the brewpub – Beer With No Name (a 7.7% ABV Stout), Zee Germans Had It Figured Out (a 6.6% ABV Märzen), Bombay Pale Ale (a 6.5% India Pale Ale), Ravnsborg Rød (a 6.5% ABV Irish Red Ale), Twenty 2 Lager a 5% ABV Pale Lager), La Secret De La Lcorne (a 5.9% ABV Farmhouse Saison Ale), and Nørrebro Pilsner (4.6% ABV). Nørrebro Bryghus is a great place to spend a couple of hours while in Copenhagen; the staff are friendly and attentive, the beer selection is good, and the general ambience very pleasant.

The bar at the Nørrebro Brewpub

The second brewey I visited was Warpigs. Warpigs is a collaboration between the Danish brewer Mikkeller and 3 Floyds Brewing Company from Munster, IN. Its beers, brewed on site, are billed as “American-Danish style brews”  I am not quite sure what that means, or what constitutes an American-Danish style brew, but I suppose when you are Three Floyds and Mikkeller you can use that type of language. Anyway, at any given time there are generally twenty-two Warpigs’ brews on tap. As well as brewing beer, Warpigs has a kitchen. It specializes in “authentic Texas barbecue”. The brewery, which opened in 2015, is located in Copenhagen’s old meat packing district. In Danish the district is called Kødbyen, which translates as Meat City.  At one point, during the last century it was said to have had the highest density of butchers in Europe.  Gradually, however, one-by-one, butchers left. It was in danger of becoming an abandoned ghost town of sorts. Then, in 2005, the local council had the idea to redevelop the district à la Manhattan’s meat packing district.  The result has made Kødbyen one of the trendiest entertainment districts in Copenhagen. It is home to art galleries, boutiques, co-working spaces, cafes, bars, restaurants, and night clubs. There are still a handful of butchering operations in the neighborhood, so that  “in the morning, you see butchers in white coats with blood on their hands walking around the streets of the meatpacking district.” Adaptive reuse of old building by craft brewers is one of my research interests within the craft beer industry. So I was particularly looking forward to visiting Warpigs. When you walk into Warpigs, a former butchery,  you get a feel for the building’s previous use. To a large extent, that is because there are a lot of restrictions placed on the changes that occupants are permitted to make to the interior of any building. When I walked into Warpigs, I immediately noticed the white tile walls and the hooks in the ceiling from which carcasses used to hang.  Warpigs is located in what is known as the White Meat District (there are also Brown and Grey Meat Districts). The White Meat District comprises twelve acres of buildings dating from the 1930s. It has been described as “a pinnacle of functionalist architecture“. According to Wikipedia, “functionalism is the principle that architects should design a building based on the purpose of that building”. I am no student of architecture, but that definition certainly resonates with me when I think of Warpigs and other buildings I saw in Kødbyen.

Warpigs is located in Copenhagen’s historic meat packing district
Inside Warpigs. Few structural changes were allowed inside the old butchery

Warpigs, as noted, is a joint venture between Mikkeller and 3 Floyds.  Mikkeller is an iconic name within the world of craft beer. Mikkel Borg Bjergso, a former high school science teacher, founded Mikkeller in 2006. The company made its name as a gypsy brewer.  A gypsy brewer is a brewer that does not own a brewery, but rather creates recipes and contracts with existing breweries to brew them. Mikkeller is arguably the most famous gypsy brewer in the world. I say arguably because Bjergso’s twin brother, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso, is also an internationally famous gypsy brewer. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Jeppe’s company is called Evil Twin Brewing. Evil Twin was established in 2010. The name is a nod to the acrimonious relationship that exists between the two brothers. In March 2014 Jonah Wiener of the New York Times penned a fascinating piece on the evolution of this relationship. It makes compelling reading (you can read it here). Long story short – Mikkel started Mikkeller in 2006; a year prior to that Jeppe had opened a beer store in Copenhagen called Olbutikken. The relationship between Mikkeller and Olbutikken was symbiotic. Olbutikken showcased Mikkeller beers and Mikkeller beers drew customers to Olbutikken. In 2010 Mikkel opened a Mikkeller bar in close proximity to Olbutikken. Jeppe viewed the bar as competing with his store, and from that point forward the relationship started to go south.

Jacob Gram Alsing, Operational Manager at Mikkeller shared his perspectives on the brewer at their barrel-ageing facility
Peter, Pale and Mary – an American Pale Ale – one of the Mikkeller brews I sampled at Mikkeller Baghaven

I visited Mikkeller along with other delegates from the Beeronomics conference. The Mikkeller facility that we visited was Mikkeller Baghaven. This venue serves multiple functions. First, it is Mikeller’s barrel-aging facility.  Mikkeller sends beers that are brewed at various locations around the world to Baghaven to be barrel-aged. Second, it is a venue that can be rented for a variety of events such as weddings and parties. Third, it is a taproom where you can enjoy some great Mikkeller beers.  When we arrived at Mikkeler we were greeted by Jacob Gram Alsing, Operations Manager at Mikkeller. Jacob spent about thirty minutes with us, telling us about Mikkeller and answering questions. One of the most fascinating facts, that Alsing provided us with, is that Mikkel has a recipe book that contains somewhere in the region of a thousand different recipes for beer. I find that to be quite mind boggling. Mikkeller beer itself is brewed in four different countries – Belgium, Norway, Italy, and the United States. Technically, Mikkeller is no longer a pure Gypsy brewer. In addition to the brewpub that Mikkeller owns in Copenhagen with 3 Floyds, the brewer recently opened a brewery in San Diego, CA . The San Diego brewey is another joint venture – this time, with AleSmith Brewing Company. The San Diego Brewery allows Mikkeller, among other things, to get their more perishable brews such as IPAs to their customers in a condition of peak freshness.  And Mikkeller recently announced that they would be opening a brewery in a non-ticketed section of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Indeed, there appears to be a trend of gypsy brewers investing in brick and mortar breweries. There are a number of reasons for this, including a brewer being able to interact with his/her customers and this getting direct feedback on the beers they produce.

From a beer drinker’s perspective Copenhagen turned out to be a more interesting city than I had anticipated. But, I suspect, thanks to the growth of the craft beer movement, that every city is more interesting than it was say twenty or even ten years ago. And for that, as someone who travels quite a bit I suppose I owe craft brewers a huge debt of gratitude. Craft breweries add local color and flavor to a city, while their beers reflect the creativity and craftsmanship of a local brewer. So to craft brewers everywhere I say Skål.

 

Il Locale

I was in Copenhagen, Denmark a few weeks ago. I was there attending the fifth biennial conference of the Beeronomics Society. It was my first visit to Copenhagen; my first visit to Denmark, in fact. So I was keen to explore the Danish beer scene. I was there for six days and did indeed get to visit a couple of Danish craft breweries while there, as well as sample a good number of Danish craft beers. What I did not anticipate, however, was drinking a goodly amount of Italian craft beer. But there it was; right across the street from my hotel – Il Local – an Italian craft beer bar. It didn’t look much from the outside. I had arrived from Detroit, via Amsterdam, that morning. I was tired and so it would have been very easy to have a couple of more beers in my very comfortable seat in the lobby bar of the Avenue Hotel and then retire for the evening. But I didn’t. I got up, settled my bar bill, and headed across the street. And boy, I was glad I did.

Il Locale was right across the street from my hotel
Il Locale was getting ready to celebrate its one year anniversary

I have been in literally thousands of bars over the years – many of them forgettable, and a few of them memorable. On the spectrum of forgettable to memorable Il Locale definitely leans toward the latter. The bar opened in 2016. In fact, the weekend after I was there it was going to be celebrating its one-year anniversary.

Il Locale is a venture of Hibu Craft Brewery. Hibu was established in Milan in 2007, but relocated to Burago di Molgora (twenty kilometers northeast of Milan) in 2015. The man behind Hibu is Raimondo Cetani who quit his job in IT to take his passion of home brewing to the next level. With the assistance and support of his business partners, Tommaso Norsa and Lorenzo Rocca, he did just that. The name, Hibu, has an interesting etymology. It represents the combination of the word homebrewer and the acronym IBU. IBU (International Bitterness Unit) is a technical term that indicates the degree of a beer’s bitterness.

Fabio, one of the wonderful bartenders who works at Il Locale

In addition to its intimate and in places cozy ambience, one of the delights of Il Locale is its Italian staff members. They are friendly and knowledgeable about the beer they sell. They are eager to engage in conversation and answer any question you may have about the bar or any of its beers. You quickly feel at home and and are soon starting to plot your next visit. Planning your next visit is made a little easier when the bartender hands you a coupon for a complimentary beer. This is exactly what my friendly bartender, Fabio, did as I was about to call it a night that first evening. It was a buy your first, get your second beer free coupon – redeemable on my next visit.

There were quite a few conference attendees staying at the Avenue Hotel and inevitably some of us found ourselves in Il Locale in the evening. There was a huge map of Italy hanging at one end of the bar and it was used as a teaching prop on more than one occasion as the bartender showed us where this or that craft brewery was located. During one of our early conversations with the bartenders we mentioned that we were academics who studied the beer industry and were in Copenhagen for the  Beeronomics Conference. They seemed genuinely interested in this; so much so that they wondered if it would be possible to attend the conference and take in a few of the presentations. We suggested that they turn up at the conference the next day and one of us would have a word with the conference organizers to see if they could get complimentary admission. So the next morning a couple of Il Locale’s staff members showed up at the conference and were soon sitting among us listening intently to what was being said by that morning’s presenters.

Il Locale’s bar area – note the map of Italy
If sitting at the bar is not your scene there is thus cozy lounge area
Koln, a 5.1% ABV Kolsch by Hibu Brewery

Il Locale does not just carry Hibu beers. It also has beer from other Italian breweries, including Dada, Black Barrels, and Croce de Malto. There is also a small but delicious food menu. The Italian chef had spent some time in Australia before coming to Copenhagen. The pasta with the crumbled spicy Italian pork from  Ariccia was particularly tasty. Il Locale has been added to my list of “must visits”. These are bars that I will go out of my way to visit should I return to a particular city. Il Locale is now one of those bars. Others on the list include Brouwerij de Prael in Amsterdam, Loos American Bar in Vienna,  and Tokyo’s Bar Monde.

 

Beeronomics 2017

One of the benefits of attending Beeronomics 2017 was I got to interact with people like Martin Stack.

Last week I was in Copenhagen, Denmark. I was there to attend the fifth biennial conference of the Beeronomics Society. Yes, you read that correctly, Beeronomics – a conference that brings together scholars from around the world who are doing research on some aspect of the beer industry. The first conference of the Society was held in Leuven, Belgium in 2009. This was followed by conferences in Freising, Germany (2011), York, England (2013), and Seattle, USA (2015). I attended the conferences that were held in York and Seattle. As a beer researcher I have found the conferences to be extremely valuable. At some of the academic conferences that I attend I am often the only person presenting a paper on the beer industry; at best there might be an entire breakout session devoted to the topic. So to be able to attend a conference where there are fifty or sixty people, all of whom are interested in the beer industry, is very exciting. Not only do I get to hear what others are working on but, probably more importantly, I also get to chat with fellow beer scholars face-to-face during coffee breaks, over lunch or dinner, or while enjoying a beer. In Copenhagen I had some particularly interesting and productive conversations with Brett Stubbs, an independent scholar who specializes in Australian brewing history and Martin Stack of Rockhurst University who, in my opinion, is doing some of the most interesting work on changes (both historical and contemporary) in the American brewing industry. Despite all the advantages of, and advances in, communications media (smart phones, e-mail, Skype, etc.) there is still no substitute for what can be gained  by being together for a few days in the same place with your academic peers.

CBS Centenary IPA brewed by Carlsberg to recognize the one hundredth anniversary of Copenhagen Business School

The conference kicked off with a keynote lecture and reception at the Copenhagen Business School. The lecture was presented by Majken Schultz, Professor of Management at Copenhagen Business School. Professor Schultz’s lecture was titled “Always Burning: How the Brewing Industry Makes Use of its History”. The lecture focused on the Danish brewing giant Carlsberg and the ways in which the motto semper ardens (always burning) had been leveraged by the company at various points throughout its history. Semper ardens  was the motto of Carl Jacobsen, son of Carlsberg’s founder J.C. Jacobsen. Before, during, and after Professor Schultz’s lecture there was beer available;  not just any beer, but a rather special beer. In recognition of the one hundredth anniversary of the Copenhagen Business School, Carlsberg brewed a special celebratory beer – CBS Centenary IPA. Made with four different hops from Washington’s Yakima Valley the beer is 6.5% ABV. It was a great beer with which to kick-off the conference.

Professor Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of The Carlsberg Foundation, welcomes us to The Carlsberg Academy

Following the keynote lecture, the next two days of the conference were held in the rather splendid surroundings of The Carlsberg Academy. The building that houses the Academy was completed in 1854 and started life as the residence of Carlsberg’s founder, J.C. Jacobsen and his family. Jacobsen lived there until his death in 1887. His wife, Laura, continued to live in the magnificent residence until her death in 1911. In 1914, in accordance with Jacobsen’s wishes, the house became an honorary residence for a man or woman who was engaged in science, literature, or art. Perhaps the most famous honorary resident of the house was Niels Bohr, who in 1922 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Bohr lived in the house between 1931 and 1962. In 1955 the decision was made to renovate the house and establish The Carlsberg Academy. The ground floor of the Academy includes space for symposia and conferences. It is here that the Beeronomics 2017 conference was held. And it proved to be a fantastic venue. We were also very honored to be welcomed to the Academy by Professor Flemming Besenbacher, the Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Professor Besenbacher provided us with a highly informative talk on the background and work of the Foundation.

The Carlsberg Academy provided a spectacular venue for the Beeronomics Conference
Conference delegates networking at The Carlsberg Academy
The beautiful gardens of The Carlsberg Academy
Imre Ferto of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences talks about microbreweries in Hungary

During the next two days there were a total of forty-four presentations from delegates representing fifteen different countries. Presentations covered a wide range of topics, including “Markups and Advertising Expenditures in the German Brewing Sector”, “Why is Belgian Beer the Best in the World?”, and “Branding and Performance in the Global Beer Market”. I like to use the conference as a barometer to gauge what scholars in the academy are working on when it comes to the beer industry. As I perused the conference program I did a count on the number of papers devoted to craft beer. There were twenty-two, including mine, that dealt with some aspect of the craft beer segment of the broader beer industry. What was particularly fascinating about this sub-set of presentations was their geographic diversity. In addition to the United States there were presentations about the craft beer industry  in Australia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. I found this to be exciting and an indication of the growing importance of the craft beer segment in a growing number of countries outside of the United States. This is something I have also witnessed in my overseas travels. Consumer demand for higher quality beer, made by small-scale independent breweries, and which provides the beer drinker with a greater diversity of styles and flavors is on the rise in more and more countries.

Martin Stack of Rockhurst University and Tomas Maier, Czech University of Life Science discuss the brewing industry over dinner

On the final evening of the conference there was a gala dinner. This was held in the Jacobsen Brewhouse  which is located next to The Carlsberg Academy. The dinner was another opportunity to network with conference attendees as well as to sample a rebrew of one of Carlsberg’s historic beers. In 2013 a Carlsberg employee discovered, in a forgotten beer cellar, three unopened bottles of a late nineteenth century Carlsberg beer. The beer had been unpasteurized and so scientists were able to isolate and cultivate live yeast from the old beer.  Nineteenth century brewing records were used to recreate the 133-year old lager recipe. The lager has an ABV of 5.7%, is darker in color, sweeter, and less carbonated than the standard Carlsberg Pilsner  of today.

Some of our luncheon beer options at The Carlsberg Academy

One of the features of the lunches that we enjoyed at The Carlsberg Academy was the fact that beer was available with our lunch buffet (it was a beer conference after all). It was from Carlsberg’s portfolio of beers brewed under the Jacobsen brand. This beer is brewed in the Jacobsen Brewhouse, which opened in 2005. The Brewhouse focuses on specialty beers and is Carlsberg’s response to the growing demand for craft beers. The beers available under the Jacobsen brand include an IPA, a porter, and a weissbier.

Following the conclusion of the scientific portion of the conference, delegates had an opportunity to spend a day visiting two breweries (Nørrebro Bryghus and Warpigs) in the Copenhagen area. We also visited Mikkeller Baghaven, which is Mikkeller’s barrel ageing facility. I will not go into any detail on these visits here, but will devote a blog entry to them at a later date.

So Beeronomics 2017 has come and gone. It was a fantastic event. At the gala dinner it was announced that the 2019 Beeronomics Conference will be held in the Pilsen in the Czech Republic. What an appropriate choice for a conference on beer. For my non-beer loving friends, the city of Pilsen is the birthplace of the style of beer known as Pilsner.

Prof Beer

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from John Paul Breslin. John Paul is a reporter with the Sunday Post, a Scottish newspaper. John Paul had come across my beer blog, saw that I was originally from Scotland, and was interested in writing an article about my research Continue reading Prof Beer

Two Days in Hong Kong

I just returned from a ten day trip to Asia, which included two days  in Hong Kong. The main purpose of my trip was to attend the twenty-fifth biennial Pacific Conference of the Regional Science Association International that was held in Tainan, Taiwan. When my Continue reading Two Days in Hong Kong

Guid Ale Comes and Guid Ale Goes

Back in January I participated in an evening celebrating the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Burns is the National Poet of Scotland. Every year, Scots and non-Scots alike gather on or around January 25 (Burns’s Birthday) to commemorate the life of this literary genius. Growing up in Scotland I cannot recall a time when I was not aware of Burns and his poetry. At the very least, a rudimentary knowledge of Burns seems to be part of the Scottish DNA.

Whateverandeveramen celebrated the life and poetry of Robert Burns in Seattle, WA and Toledo, OH
Whateverandeveramen sing the songs of Robert Burns at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH

The celebration was held at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in downtown Toledo, OH. The evening was organized by Brad Pierson who is Director of Choral Activities at the University of Toledo. Brad is a Burns aficionado. He has been organizing Burns’ celebrations since 2014. He started doing so in Seattle, WA while he was in graduate school. This year, in addition to the event in Toledo, Brad organized two other celebrations, both in Seattle. The fact that Brad chose the Black Cloister for his first Toledo Burns celebration is no accident. Brad is a craft beer lover and, in fact, one of the Seattle events that he organized was held in Naked City Brewery and Taphouse. Brad is also the founder of Whateverandeveramen, “a project-based ensemble dedicated to the performance of high quality choral literature of varied styles from all musical eras.”

Brad asked me to participate in the evening and to provide some background on the life, times, and poetry of the great man in between the sets performed by Whateverandeveramen. This I was happy to do. My first contribution to the evening was to regale the crowd  with a brief biography of Burns, while at the same time trying to convey why his poetry was, and still is, considered important.

Burns was born on January 25, 1759 (he died in 1796 at the age of thirty-seven) in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire. His father was a tenant farmer; a vocation that Burns later took up himself. He was the oldest of seven children. Burns was educated both at home and in a formal school setting. At age fifteen he discovered a love for poetry, to the extent that he soon started writing poems.  And it was his poetry that would make him famous the world over.

Burns’ poetry was important for a number of reasons. First, he wrote in the Scots language at a time when to do so was highly unpopular in Scottish literary circles. Scotland had entered into political union with England in 1707 and as a result there was a movement afoot to Anglicize Scottish culture and language. This is something that Burns opposed vehemently. He knew the important role that the Scots language played in Scottish identity.  Second,  Burns “used small subjects to express big ideas“. For example, in his poem To a Mouse he makes comparisons between the lives of mice and men. A farmer, plouging his field, accidentally upsets a mouse’s nest. On doing so he apologizes to the mouse; realizing that he has upset the mouse’s plans.  It is at this point that the farmer recognizes that mice, like men, make plans and that these plans can, in a split second be upset. As Burns notes in the poem – “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” –  (translated as “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew”). In Tam ‘o Shanter he suggests that Tam, upon being chased by witches, should perhaps have heeded the advice of his wife and stayed at home (are you listening gentlemen?).

Postage stamps issued by the Soviet Union in 1956 on the 160th anniversary of Burns’ death

Centuries after his death Burns’ work continued to be recognized and have impact. John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men from a line of the Burns’ poem To A Mouse. In 1956 the Soviet Union issued a set of commemorative postage stamps on the 160th anniversary of the poet’s death. In 2008, when asked to name the verse of lyric that had the greatest impact on his life the iconic American artist Bob Dylan identified the poem A Red Red Rose, written by Burns in 1794.

Here I am reciting “Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon”

After some more singing by Whateverandeveramen I got back on stage and recited one of Burns poems – Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon. It was a poem written in 1795, a year before Burns’ death. It tells the story of a farmer and the lengths to which he goes to keep himself supplied with good ale and the price that he sometimes pays for over indulging. The latter included being publicly rebuked by the minister in the local church. Burns lived in post-Reformation Scotland which meant that the Church of Scotland was dominant religious institution. The Church of Scotland, colloquially known as the Kirk, was Presbyterian. It was heavily influenced by the ideas of the French reformer John Calvin and, as a result, was quite puritanical in its outlook. Drinking and drunkeness were most certainly frowned upon; too much beer and you ended up on ‘the stool” in Kirk on a Sunday morning where you would be chastised by the minister in front of the entire congregation.

The individual in Burns’ poem went to great lengths to finance his love of guid ale. He owned six oxen (sax owsen) and found himself selling them one by one (ane by ane). When he had spent that money he sold his stockings (hose) and pawned his shoes (shoon). Drastic steps, but worth it because drinking guid ale lifted his spirits (keeps the heart aboon). It also causes him to meddle with the servant girl (“gars me moop wi’ the servant hizzie”).

Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon

I had sax owsen in a pleugh,
And they drew a’ weel eneugh:
I sell’d them a’ just ane by ane –
Guid ale keeps the heart aboon!

O, guid ale comes, and guid ale goes,
Guid ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon –
Guid ale keeps my heart aboon!

Guid ale hauds me bare and busy,
Gars me moop wi’ the servant hizzie,
Stand i’ the stool when I hae dune –
Guid ale keeps the heart aboon!

O, guid ale comes, and guid ale goes,
Guid ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon –
Guid ale keeps my heart aboon!

Robert Burns Scottish Ale from Belhaven Brewery

The ale for which Burns’ character was willing to go to such lenghths to acquire was known as Scottish Ale (those with an ABV of 6.5% and higher were known as Scotch Ales). Hops were not grown in nineteenth century Scotland; the closest hop fields were in Kent in the south of England.  High transportation made hops cost prohibitive for Scottish brewers; so few were used and with the result that the ales of the period had a sweet, malty character. A number of modern-day breweries produce an ale that commemorates Burns. One of these is Scotland’s Belhaven Brewery who brew a Robert Burns Ale which they describe as a “classic, malty Scottish Ale”.

The evening at the Black Cloister was highly memorable. As a Scot, participating in events liks this affords me an opportunity to reconnect with my cultural roots. I have lived in the United States since 1985; but I still have a strong emotional affinity for the land of my birth. And while I am a passport-carrying American (I became a U.S. citizen in 2003) evenings such as this remind me from whence I came.

 

 

Brewed By The Birds

Polly James (left) and Nerys Hughes (right) as The Liver Birds

 

The two sculptured birds atop Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building

The British can take credit for the creation of some wonderful situation comedies. Growing up in Scotland during the 1970s and 1980s I was a regular viewer of a number of these. Some of my favorites included Only Fools and Horses, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and Porridge. Recently I was reminded of another – The Liver Birds. The Liver Birds ran for ten seasons on BBC from 1969 and 1979. Set in Liverpool the storyline focused on the lives of two women (Sandra played by Nerys Hughes and Beryl played by Polly James) who shared an apartment. The title for the series was inspired by two sculptured birds that are perched on top of Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building. The building, opened in 1911, was built to house the offices of the Royal Liver Assurance Group. The “bird” reference in the show’s title, however, is also a nod to the British slang word “bird”, which refers to a young woman. The American equivalent would be the word “chick”.

In Melbourne I enjoyed this Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company
Melbourne’s Hairy Little Sista Bar/Restaurant where I enjoyed a Sunset Ale

The show popped into my head, a few weeks ago, when I was in Melbourne, Australia. This was my fifth visit to Australia, but my first to Melbourne. I first visited Australia in 2006. While not much has changed since my first visit ten years ago one change that I have observed is the growing popularity of craft beer. Like Americans, increasing numbers of Australians, are demanding better quality and more flavorful beer than that which is offered by the large macro-brewers. I sampled quite a number of these Australian craft beers on my eight day trip there. One that I sampled was called Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company. It was recommended to by a bartender in Hairy Little Sista, a bar/restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD. I was with a colleague and we went into the Sista to get a beer. It was my round so I went up to the bar to see what was on offer. The bartender saw me perusing the selection of beers on tap and before I could make a decision she said “You should try the Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewery. The brewery is owned by two women, that’s why it’s called Two Birds, and they make some really good beer. It’s brewed here in Melbourne”. This particular bird, the bartender, had a sweet smile – I couldn’t refuse her recommendation. And I was not disappointed. Sunset Ale is a tasty amber ale that comes in at an ABV of 4.6%. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I had another the next day in another bar; this time from a bottle.

The two birds behind Two Birds Brewing are Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen. They both grew up in the city of Perth, in Western Australia and met there while teenagers. Throughout the course of their friendship they both developed a love and appreciation for  beer. Lewis eventually entered the brewing industry where she gained valuable experience working  for a number of Australian breweries, including as head brewer at Mountain Goat Brewery in Richmond, a Melbourne suburb. Allen, meanwhile, was putting her Marketing and Public Relations degree to work. Her passion was the food and beverage industry and she worked for a number of private sector firms following graduation. These included some time spent as Product Development Manager with the Australian retail giant, Woolworths, where she worked on the company’s private label brand of food products, ‘Select’.

In 2011 Lewis and Allen decided to enter the world of commercial brewing. At that point they were not ready to invest in a bricks-and-mortar brewery; instead they contracted with other  breweries to brew their beers. This allowed them to concentrate on other aspects of the business, including recipe development, establishing a distribution network, getting their brand known in the market, and also raising the financing to build an actual brewery. The latter they did in 2014 when they opened Two Birds Brewery in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood. Within the Australian context Lewis and Allen are pioneers – they are the country’s first female brewery owners. As part of the process of establishing their brewery the Two Birds made several pilgrimages to the United States, one in 2010 and one in 2013. They did so to immerse themselves in the American craft beer scene, to see what they could learn, and to draw inspiration – the fact that they made not one, but two visits to the United States is  a testimony to the cutting edge nature of the American craft beer industry.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have covered the topic of female Brewers in previous entries. In March 2016 I interviewed Shannon Fink, Head Brewer at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH. In July 2016 I wrote an entry about female-owned High Heel Brewing of Lakeland, FL. Historically, before beer became an industrialized product, the role of brewer was a predominantly female one.

After I returned from Australia I came across an article about two women, Aida Musulmankulova and Arzu Kurbanova. Musulmankulova and Kurbanova are the owners of Save the Ales, the first craft brewery to be established in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. The brewery is located in Bishkek, the country’s capital city. Not only are the owners (who also happen to be the Brewers) female but they made the decision to hire an all-female staff.

While female brewers are still heavily outnumbered numerically by their male counterparts there is no question that the number of female brewers is on the rise. And here in the United States we have, I believe, reached the point where female brewers are no longer regarded as a curiosity or an oddity. And while there is still a ways to go female breweres are slowly, but surely, becoming mainstream. And that, surely, is a good thing.

Going To The Dogs

I am writing this in the city of Auckland. It is the last day of a ten day trip to New Zealand. The main purpose of my visit was to attend a meeting of the International Geographical Union’s Commission on the Dynamics of Economic Spaces. The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘New Resource Geographies”. I made a presentation on changes taking place in the American hops industry as a result of the growth of the craft brewing sector. The meeting was in Palmerston North, an inland town of about 85,000 residents, located on the eastern Manawatu Plains of the country’s North Island.

As always, when I travel, I enjoy exploring the beer scene in the places I visit. Like many developed economies New Zealand has an emerging craft beer scene. According to a 2016 report there are 168 craft breweries in this country of 4.5 million people. Craft beer accounts for fifteen percent of the country’s beer sales.

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There was a large crowd of people and dogs at the Black Dog Brewery to support its annual fundraiser for the Wellington SPCA
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Advertising the SPCA fundraiser with special release XPCA Pale Ale
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The dogs in attendance at the SPCA fundraiser seemed to enjoy themselves

After Palmerston North I took the bus south to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. A city of 400,000 Wellington has a vibrant craft beer scene. This was my third visit to New Zealand, but my first to Wellington. While there I took the opportunity to visit one of the city’s craft breweries. Black Dog Brew Co. was established in 2011. Located  right in the heart of the CBD the brewery was a comfortable walk from my hotel. I arrived at the brewery mid-afternoon on a Saturday. As I approached I was a little surprised to see that it seemed to be packed with people – they were spilling out onto the streets. I had stopped in at a few bars on my way to the Black Dog and the Saturday afternoon patrons were few in number. But, as I got closer, I noticed something unusual about the crowd at Black Dog – many of them had dogs in tow. As it turns out my visit to the brewery coincided with the annual fundraiser that the brewery holds for the Wellington branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). I made my way through a throng of people and dogs and found a seat towards the back of the bar. As I looked round I counted  probably a dozen dogs who sniffed around as their happy owners enjoyed a brew. Last year’s event attracted forty or so dogs apparently. This was the third year that the brewery had hosted this fundraiser. And each year they have brewed a special beer; the proceeds from the sale of which are donated to the Wellington SPCA. In 2015 the brew was Skater Hater, a hoppy Pilsner. It was named after one of the dogs who regularly frequents the brewery and has a particular disdain for skateboarders. This year the brewery produced XPCA, a New Zealand Pale Ale. While I was there one of the brewery’s owners, Simon Edward, said a few words about the event and thanked everyone who had come out in support.

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Black Dog’s Clifford Red IPA

While the brewery was too busy for me to get a few words with any of the owners all indications are that they are dog lovers. In addition to this annual fundraiser and the brewery’s name, a number of Black Dog’s brews are named to have a dog connection. Clifford, a Red IPA, is named (presumably) after the children’s book character, Clifford the Big Red Dog. Then there’s Hair of the Dog, an appropriately-named breakfast IPA that comes in at an ABV of 2.2%. Other dog-inspired beers are Golden Lab (a golden ale), Chomp (a New Zealand pale ale), and Bite (a hopped Pilsner). I spent an enjoyable hour or so at the Black Dog, sampling their beer while watching dog lovers and their pooches.

The fact that Black Dog were hosting an event to support a local charitable cause does not surprise me. Craft breweries tend to be high connected to and engaged with their local communities. In 2014, for example, American craft breweries raised over seventy-one million dollars for charity, That’s an average of $20,664 per craft brewery or $3.25 per barrel.

In addition to craft breweries Wellington also has a number of craft beer bars. After Black Dog I visited one of those – The Malthouse. Since its opening in 1993 this Wellington institution has been described as the high alter of the local craft beer scene. It was the first bar in the city to serve Heineken. Today if offers 150+ beers, including 25+ on draft, from all over New Zealand and around the world. Non-draft beer is stored in one of six refrigerated coolers, each one set at a different temperature to suit the. beer inside.

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Patrons enjoying beer at Wellington’s Black Dog Brewery

It is really great to see the craft brewing movement prosper outside of the United States. And the more I travel, the more I talk to people, and the more I read about craft brewing in other countries the more I notice commonalities that transcend international borders. Whether you are in Sweden, New Zealand, or in the United States there are a growing number of people who desire beer that is of higher quality and more flavorful and more diverse than that which is being offered to them by the large multinational conglomerates. And thankfully there are brewers who are willing to step-up and take the risk of commercializing their hobby to provide the beer drinker with the wonderful array of craft beers that we have available to us today.

Vienna

My wife and I just spent ten days in Austria. Most of the time was spent in Vienna, but we did take the train to Salzburg and spent two and a half days there. This was part of a longer trip to Europe where we also spent some time in Munich, Germany, and Poznan, Poland. The trip was a mix of business and pleasure. I was attending a couple Continue reading Vienna