Tag Archives: Belgium

Belgian Artist and German Engineer

This one might already be somewhere in my beer entries. Still, it's worth repeating… 😉

Much of craft beer culture in North America uses a continuum based on two important images from two important brewing traditions: Belgian Ales and German Lagers. Not that these are at all exclusive associations. Belgium produces many lager beers and Germany produces many ales. Other brewing traditions (especially from the Czech Republic or from the British Isles and former British colonies) also have their own ales and lager beers. But these two “national” traditions are quite important in craft beer culture's imagination and self-identification.

The German Lagers used as a prototype are usually clean, crisp, refreshing, balanced, and especially consistent. The Belgian Ales used as a prototype are usually complex, smooth, soothing, malty, and especially distinctive. Many beers are located along this continuum. And it's not unusual to see malty brews associated with complexity or crisp brews with clean-tasting. The values of consistency and distinctiveness are quite important in craft brewing as it influences brewing practise. Those of a more creative approach may tend to prefer brewing Belgian Ales, even when the results are disappointing while those with a more technical perspective may prefer brewing German Lagers, even if their taste is relatively unassertive. In such a context, the images/stereotypes of a German Engineer (GE: who wants his work to always be perfect and dependable) and the Belgian Artist (BA: who wants his work to make a statement) seem useful, if simplistic.

For one thing, those images don't necessarily correspond to beer styles. Many of the BA beers could in fact be based on German beers like the Hefeweizen and Berliner Weiss. Similarly, GE beers are likely to be ales, especially British ones. But the brewing traditions of Germany and Belgium are perceived through those models/prototypes.

And speaking of beer in Germany, see Ron Pattison's criticism of the so-called “purity” law, his take on German Beer, and especially Thomas Perera's description of the German beer spirit.

For Belgium, there's a wealth of resources (including on Ron Pattison's site) but its beer scene is characteristically described by disparate details as it's difficult to make sense of Belgian beer in general.

Of course, discussions of regional differences within these two countries in brewing patterns are extremely important. But these differences are rarely seen by North American craft beer people as implying much distinction in brewing philosophy.

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Two Radio Pieces on Beer

Chicago Public Radio – Audio Library: Eight Forty-Eight
One is partly a repeat from Steve Dolinsky’s TV report mentioned earlier but with more contextual information. The other one was originally broadcast in 2000 and features Bob Skilnik (who put up an elaborate excerpt from his book right here).
What’s interesting about all of this, apart from the situation of Chicago in the world of beer, is that beer seems to connect to several social phenomena. I’ll need to read Skilnik’s books at one point, especially as he emphasizes the class struggle in the Prohibition movement, but I also think there’s a lot to say about what’s happening now.
For instance, Dolinsky’s extended piece here has a more elaborate comment Hopleaf’s Michael Roper about “artisan” beer in Belgium. Yes, all beer geeks know about this, but it’s interesting to see that these ideas are being brought to a larger audience. As opposed to wine, which tends to be known for its origins, beer is more rarely associated to specific regions or traditions. Well, then again, people probably think of Mexico as a beer producer because of Corona and Sol… 😉

At any rate, two interesting radio pieces about beer, now available online.