Last week’s article in the Wall Street Journal about conflict between traditional brewers and ‘beer architects’ in Belgium appalled someone we follow on Twitter:
'Beer architect'… WTF? What a totally crap term. Why do people feel they have to label everything. I guess I must be a 'beer surveyor'!
— Beerenalia (@Beerenalia) January 4, 2015
Now, we’re not sure if the world needs beer architects, or if the term is one we’d like to see stick, but it’s an interesting way of framing the discussion.
Until fairly recently, there were no architects — only builders, and, later, master builders. Then came people like Christopher Wren — intelligent to the point of genius, and bred to practice good taste at a pitch most humans can’t detect — who made a living conceiving of buildings or estates; sketching them; modelling them… and then contracting someone else to get their hands dirty in the construction.
German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) started his career working on building sites. He designed modern structures of remarkable elegance and apparent simplicity, but used his knowledge of the (literal) nuts and bolts of building to, for example, specify dimensions that would accommodate standard brick sizes, avoiding the need for fudged edges or partial pieces. He visited brick merchants to hand select those of the right colour and texture to be used in the construction of his designs. He reportedly once spent six months tinkering with the placement of a wall in a scale model.
So, a credible beer architect might be someone who:
- has a qualification from a great brewing school;
- has worked hands-on in breweries;
- has studied hops, malt, yeast and water in the laboratory;
- knows the history of beer and its place in culture;
- pays painstaking attention to detail and
- has a well-trained palate and excruciatingly good taste.
Much like a ‘head brewer’, then, only without a home base; and certainly overlapping with the existing role of ‘beer consultant’ currently undertaken by, for example, Sean ‘Dr Hop’ Franklin.
What a beer architect surely can’t be is the kind of person who calls up and says, ‘I’d like 20 pallets of your standard Slavovar lager to go out with this cool label I’ve designed, please,’ or, ‘I’ve got a, like, wicked idea for a strawberry tripel — can you work out the details and send my a lorry load by June?’
PS. Those critical of contract/gypsy/nomad brewing who want a similarly persuasive bit of rhetoric might note that having your book ‘ghost written’ is not yet considered cool, and ‘ghost brewed’ does have a certain ring to it.