Tag Archives: Germans in America

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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Beer and “Ethnicity”

[Ugh! I lost a first version of this post because of Blogger maintenance… Now I know why people complain…]

The very first comment on my young blog is an extensive excerpt from Bob Skilnik's book on beer history. Thanks!
The relationship between beer and "ethnicity" is really a fascinating issue. Some say that the movement leading to the federal prohibition was related to anti-German sentiment. Others associate it more closely with the growth in the political influence of some woman groups. The events were probably a combination of both and other causes. Similarly, the MADD lobby group probably had a large part to play in rising the drinking age to 21.

All of these seem to relate to what Ruth C. Engs calls Clean Living Movements. Engs also has interesting articles available on health, alcohol, and social issues. For instance, binge drinking is a major problem on some US campuses and seems to be linked to a negative attitude toward alcohol.

One concept that I'd like to explore a bit more is that of "moral entrepreneurs" who seem to be at the center of those movements and are trying to get ahead politically. The first exposure I got to the concept was in Mezz Mezzrow's Really the Blues. In that book (on Jazz musicians in the US between the two World Wars), moral entrepreneurs are associated to the change in legal status for cannabis in 1937. A Wikipedia article on cannabis associates the criminalisation of the herb to both DuPont's interest in plastic and to anti-Mexican sentiment (with the word "marihuana" resonating with that sentiment). No idea how accurate this explanation really is (it's always safer to take things with a grain of salt) but the associate with xenophobia is illuminating.

Not that the US are the only place where sentiments against foreigners
are brought forth. In fact, many parts of the world deal with issues of
xenophobia, especially where the notion of a "nation-state" is still
believed to mean something. What's interesting about the situation in
the US is the fact that xenophobia seems to be so intimately linked
with political, legal, and social issues. In a "country of immigrants"
which recognizes itself as such, the situation is quite striking.