News, nuggets and longreads 14 October 2023: The Changes

Every Saturday we round-up the best writing about beer from the past week. This time, we’ve got taproom taxidermy, freshness and oompah.

First, some worrying news: a new study suggests that European hops could be in trouble because of climate change. And it’s going to affect the taste of our beer:

[The] study, which looked at how the average yield of aroma hops changed between 1971 and 1994 and between 1995 and 2018, found that in some key hop-growing areas, there was a drop of nearly 20% in output… The scientists, from the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Cambridge University, put the reduction in crop down to drier conditions – probably due to climate change – in recent years… The scientists also found the alpha bitter acids of the hops – which influence the beer flavour – had reduced, due to higher and more extreme temperatures.

The original paper is available via Nature and Jeff Alworth has further commentary at Beervana.

Sticking with Jeff Alworth we’re delighted to have inspired a post about the politics of American craft beer. The other day, we pondered on the politics of cask ale. Now, Jeff has asked, is US craft culture liberal, or conservative?

Over the weekend, I visited a brewery in an exurban town on the edge of or in Trump country (I can’t find stats local enough to tell me). Situated in an industrial park, it had a very suburban feel, and the only way to visit was via car. The inside was decorated with stuffed elk heads and geese. The flickering light of a football game illuminated one wall. Nearly every table was occupied by families, in ages ranging from infants to 80 plus. And on the door was a sign announcing it was a safe space free of bigotry and welcome to all… Was this a conservative environment? Liberal? Neither?

An oompah band in the middle of a performance.
Musicians at the Hofbräuhaus München

The September edition of Will Hawkes’s excellent London Beer City newsletter is now available to read online. This edition features notes on a German beer hall chain which has real provenance:

On the face of it, organising an Oktoberfest event doesn’t seem too complicated. What do you need? Lots of German beer, bratwurst and pretzels, a crowd of thirsty punters willing to dress in lederhosen/dirndls and crash glasses together, and long tables for them to sit at/stand on. Otto’s your uncle… Not so fast! There’s another crucial element that’s harder to secure, particularly on this side of the North Sea: an oompah band… How many oompah bands are there in London good enough to entertain crowds for hours on end? “There’s so much demand now,” laughs Helen Busch, Beer Sommelier at German Kraft, which operates four venues in London, three of them (Elephant and Castle, Mayfair and Dalston) with breweries attached. She’s understandably cagey about the name of the band booked for German Kraft’s celebration.

Hops against green.

What makes a beer taste ‘fresh’? It’s a tasting note we use all the time in reference to a subtle but powerful quality we can’t otherwise describe. At Craft Beer & Brewing Randy Mosher has attempted to crack “the freshness code”:

Beer is a fragile product that’s in absolutely pristine condition for only a brief window of time. Maybe you’ve heard a friend come back from Europe and say (or maybe you’ve come back from Europe and said), “It’s so different over there; it’s not even the same beer.” It’s true. Any beer, no matter how well brewed, that’s made a weeks-long trip by ocean freighter, truck, and other means, is absolutely different from the one that left the brewery, both in terms of its flavor and its chemistry. Time, temperature, and vibration all take their toll. This is an inviolable law… Stale beer is a big issue for the industry and for discerning drinkers. Over the decades, more research money has been poured into staling than probably any other problem in brewing.

A bar selling Budweiser.
SOURCE: Dan Diav on Unsplash.

Say what you like about the rice in Budweiser but don’t think it isn’t a choice. At Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymus has written about the long history of Anheuser-Busch using the grain, often at additional expense, and the process behind it. He draws upon research for his book Brewing Local back in 2015:

First thing after arrival, a worker would take a composite sample out of each compartment in a rail car. “If there is a taste issue we will reject the whole car,” said David Maxwell, then brewing director at Anheuser-Busch InBev… “We don’t want grassy (like fresh-cut grass),” Maxwell said. “Mold will jump out at you, like walking into a basement.” They are looking for a starchy taste. Rice has a higher starch content and lower protein content than any other cereal adjunct. “We want quality starch,” Maxwell said, and freshness is the key.

A bookshelf against the window of a pub: "The Victoria".

We like this idea: instead of a book group, why not a short story group that meets in the pub? Author Laura Jean McKay argues that it’s more efficient, more fun, and leaves more time for chat, food and booze:

[We] gather at a hippy pub clutching a slim volume or tapping on a link. One published short story, one hour, once a month (or so). Arrive, order chips and beer, rip through the story, done. Raymond Carver said of the form: “Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.” We’re sprinters. And after each session I feel buzzed, already looking forward to the next race… I have tried to take part in the rite of passage that is a proper book group. The first one I went to was more about wedding planning than literature. The book was The Time Traveler’s Wife. The cake was to be chocolate. Finger food and, after much discussion, a hired photographer. There was no book discussion and no invitation to this “wedding”.

Finally, from Instagram, an enigmatic message:

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.

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