Belgium Generalisations about beer culture

Coca Cola flavours

Re-reading Stan Hieronymus‘s Brew Like a Monk, we were struck by this statement from brewer Yvan de Baets on p213:

One of the main goals of Belgian brewers should be to fight against the Coca-Cola flavors and those kind of gadget tastes… We should be about cultural tastes, not animal tastes.

He sounds like an artist or writer rather than a manufacturer. It’s almost poetry. We don’t quite know what he means by “animal tastes” but the phrase “Coca-Cola flavors” chimes strongly.

When Belgians say things like this, they sound like Obi Wan Kenobi. When British brewers try it, they sound like berks. Our culture just doesn’t tolerate anything that smells remotely like pretension, does it?

For about the eightieth time, we must add that, if you haven’t read BLAM (hey, cool acronym!) then you should. Very readable, full of characters and stories, as well as technical detail.

10 replies on “Coca Cola flavours”

Have to concur, it does sound very artistic and always nice to hear words like ‘cultural’ used. I really do despair when anything that sounds remotely intellectual or uses long words is denounced in our culture as pretentious,- I really should stop reading newspaper online comment threads. All in all Yvan de Baets sounds a thoroughly decent cove.

I know or think I know what he means by ‘coca cola flavours, but yes, not entirely sure about these animal tastes mentioned – a drop of stoat stout anyone?

Ian — thanks for commenting! (Subtext: comment more often — it’s good to hear your opinions.)

The Coca Cola thing immediately brought to mind (a) Schlösser and Diebels Alt — pasteurised, filtered, fizzy and caramelly, pale shadows of Uerige and Fuechsen; and (b) Tesco Finest Belgian Abbey beer.

What I think he means in a Belgian context (because, with respect, I think it’s highly unlikely that he’s thinking in any other context, and definitely not about German altbiere) is this –
He’s talking in a Zen-like way, about keping it real. Having flavours in the the beer that are organically part of that beer, not just slapped onto it. Or using additonal flavours in a senstive way to complement flavours that are already there, not just sticking flavours onto a bland beer.
I think he’s largely talking about Kriek Max beers and Floris, Fruli, and the like.
I think he might be against brewing a very boring beer and then dry-hopping it with shedloads of Amerillo and Citra, for example.
I think he might approve of brewing a porter with lots of mocca/coffee flavours coming from the selection of dark malts used in the mash, and then subtly augmenting and complementing those flavours with a little real coffee, as, for example, De Molen have done.

That’s how I would see things anyway.

Thanks, Rod. Interesting insight. Hadn’t taken it to mean those sweetened, flavoured beers, but now you mention it, I’m sure that is what he means.

It is a little bit like talking to Yoda, you’re right, and the phrase “animal tastes” is confusing. The phrase “gadget tastes” resonated much more clearly in the scruffy, back yard area of my brain that deals with writing recipes and getting flavours into the beer.
I have often talked about “stuck-on” flavours, and the Belgians (not all of them) are possibly the worst culprits for this – I think that’s what he’s talking about, not a literal Coke-like taste. Dumning the beer down to virtual alcopop status.

He’s an exceptionally cultured brewer, when I interviewed him last year, he said this: ‘Most of my friends are artists and when the day comes when they cannot afford our beers then I will not be able to sleep.’ But not all Belgian brewers sound cultivated though, like not all British brewers sound like beasts, be careful not to use the broad brush. And BLAM (should have a screamer at the end!) is a magnificent book, Stan’s wheat one is fab as well.

ATJ — that’s a lovely line re: the price of beer. And, yes, to be fair, John Keeling’s haircuts line in relation to variations in beer sounds quite “Belgian”.

Brew Like A Monk is a fine book indeed, even for someone who doesn’t generally brew Belgian style beers. By the time I had finished reading it though I was convinced that in order to “brew like a monk” you had to get a layman to do it.

Dead right – I’ve met the brewers from Orval and Westmalle. not a man jack of them was even vaguely monkish.

Although there is one great photo of a tall, geeky-looking monk doing something with a fermenter while smiling awkwardly at the camera.

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