News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 December 2016: Kvass, Grisette and Baltic Porter

Here’s everything that’s arrested our attention in the last week which, this time, includes several good old-fashioned beer style profiles, among other things.

We think we’ve had one beer marketed as a grisette, from a London brewery — maybe it was Partizan? — but otherwise it wasn’t at all on our radar as a distinct style. Kate Bernot’s exploratory piece for Draft fixes that:

When I asked these brewers to explain grisette as a style, I heard answers that usually included the following elements: low-ABV, saisonlike, brewed with wheat, farmhouse, Belgian/French, and some bit of lore involving miners and women in grey dresses. Through subsequent conversations, I set out to determine what elements define a grisette and what its relationship is, stylistically, to saisons.

Baltic porter beer bottle cap: Pardubicky Porter.

For the same magazine, Joe Stange has been giving some thought to Baltic porter — is it just imperial stout by another name? Maybe not:

“It is a style of beer of which we can and should be proud, that should be our calling card in the world,” one Polish beer blog said. “Promote our brewing treasure, exhorting brewers to a slightly bolder approach to style, a little breath of a new spirit. Let Baltic porter be our differentiator in the beer world map!” Certainly the Poles are among the best at brewing this style; five of the top 10 Baltic porters in the world according to Ratebeer scores are Polish; the other five are North American.

(The keen-eyed among will you note that our photo above is of a Czech take on the style, not Polish. It was sent to us by Evan Rail back in 2007.)

Soviet Kvass advertisement.

‘Kvass is the next big thing!’ we once semi-seriously suggested, but it did not come to pass. Apparently, we were just a few years early with our prediction, at least if Bo McMillan’s latest article for All About Beer is to be believed:

Jester King and other breweries’ experimental forays into the beverage are turning kvass in a distinctly more beer-like direction, upping both grain-to-bread ante and alcohol levels. While this would likely cause Khruschev to raise an eyebrow, so would most of the kvass commercially made today. According to Alimpiyeva, those kvasses are a far cry from what was once consumed by Eastern European peasants. Ironically, they’re like cola—manufactured, sweet and extract-laden soft drinks.

St Bernardus labels.

What’s great about Breandán Kearney is that he thinks to profile breweries and brewers others somehow overlook: we’re all fascinated by the question of how similar St Bernardus Abt 12 might be to Westvleteren XII but Breandán actually took the trouble to ask the folk at Watou. His long article for Good Beer Hunting also contains this life-changing bit of information:

The labels of the smiling ‘counsellor’ are stacked, a thousand at a time, on a table near the bottling machine as they’re being labeled. ‘We put one label in every thousand where the face is winking,’ Passarella says, pointing to the bundled papers. ‘When I tell that to people, they always check their bottle and become obsessed with finding a winking face.’

The Gravity Station debate.

Craig Heap’s recently revived beer blog, Cwrwsader, has been bursting with fresh material in the last week or so, including this report on the first of a series of panel debates organised by Sue Hayward, late of Waen Brewery, at the Gravity Station in Cardiff. Craig says:

There was not a lot of positivity for the current beer scene. It’s a lot we are already aware of – closing pubs, the little brewers struggling against the big boys (though with the ‘big boys’ no longer being seen as your SABInBev types, but other craft breweries), ‘hipsters’ chasing trends – but it’s always disheartening to hear it from the men and women who work at the coalface of beer, the publicans and brewers themselves. It’s not the confident scene it was a few years ago.

(You can watch the full debate — hours of it! — on the Gravity Station Facebook page.)

The Anchor Brewhouse, Tower Bridge, London.

Continuing the theme of anxious pessimism, for Craft Beer London Will Hawkes has been reflecting on the state of London beer in 2016 in the wake of the news that Goose Island is to open a bar in London, and then more bars there and elsewhere in Europe:

‘I think the serious money is about to arrive,’ one London brewer told me recently. It already has. Camden Town, which is owned by AB InBev, will open its huge new brewery in Enfield in April; Meantime, which is owned by Asahi, has recently launched an aggressive advertising campaign across the city; Stone, one of California’s biggest craft-brewers, now has an impressively large base in Europe, in Berlin; and low supermarket prices on American craft beer, from Brooklyn to Oskar Blues, must keep plenty of British brewers awake at night.

Frank Appleton and John Mitchell, 1980s.

We enjoyed Jan Zeschky’s profile of veteran Vancouver brewer Frank Appleton for The BC Ale Trail because (a) Canada intrigues us; (b) it is peppered with Wes Anderson flavoured vintage photos like the one above; and (c) Mr Appleton has an interesting story:

A year after moving to Vancouver [from Manchester in the UK], still an idealistic young microbiologist, Appleton got the job of quality control supervisor at the brand new O’Keefe brewery at Lougheed and Boundary. His account of his eight years at O’Keefe as it constantly sought to cut costs and was slowly run into the ground by Carling, its supposed sister company, is a dispiriting narrative of corporate culture at its worst.

For the sake of completeness, although everybody has surely heard the news, we should mention the story about UNESCO certifying Belgian beer culture as a world heritage asset (Guardian).

And one other piece of news delivered casually and greeted with something like euphoria because it goes some small way to addressing the scarcity of the cask version:

6 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 December 2016: Kvass, Grisette and Baltic Porter”

Good to see Appleton still with us. That Harrowsmith piece is a legend in the more recondite circles of brewing history, and shows Canada had a parallel movement to better-known US craft brewing history.

Big breweries moving in? Enter Camden Town & Meantime, or at least their borg simulacra. And to think some people viewed those buyouts as good news (“beer people are good people, they’ll have more freedom to innovate, why shouldn’t they cash in…”)

Camden Town are pretty mediocre*, and Meantime have been around so long they’re a ways from exciting.

Don’t really see them operating in the same space as smaller better breweries.

*although their IPL is a fairly unique style and we’ll done.

My point was that these two – former indies which have kept some of their ‘craft’ cred – *are* the ‘big boys’, the ‘serious money’ that’s threatening to move in & push out smaller, better, breweries. Timeo Danaos is what I say.

Pardubicky is not a Baltic porter. According to the brewery’s website it’s brewed with proper ale yeast.

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