German beer prices up because of growth of biofuels

Ochsenfurter KauzenAccording to the Arizona Star, the price of beer in Germany is going up because barley farmers are turning their fields over to crops which can be used to make biofuels.

Helmut Erdmann, the director of the Ayinger brewery in Bavaria says:

Beer prices are a very emotional issue in Germany — people expect it to be as inexpensive as other basic staples like eggs, bread and milk

In my experience, beer really is considered an everyday essential. There’s barely any tax on beer, as far as I can tell – certainly nothing like the levels we have in the UK – and it’s possible to pick up a bottle of, say, Salvator for 79c in most German supermarkets.

Old article on London Stout

450px-truman_black_eagle_brewery_2005.jpgIn the November 1854 edition of Fraser’s Magazine, there is a fascinating article called simply “London Stout”. It paints a vivid picture of how a mid-Victorian London pub would have looked:

One of the earliest things to strike our country cousins is the universal appearance of the names of certain firms, painted in the largest letters upon the most florid backgrounds of the numerous public house signs of the metropolis. “What does ‘Reid’s Entire’ mean?” asked a fair friend of ours the other day, looking up with her brown eyes as though she had asked something very foolish, and pointing to the puzzling inscription on a neighbouring signboard.

Later, the writer describes a street porter-seller “with his little rack of quart mugs brimmed with the frothy liquid, or rattling the shiny pots against the rails by their suspended strap”.

The best section, to my mind, is a detailed description of the interior of the brewery of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Co at Spitalfield, East London.

After the process of mashing the wort is pumped up into a large copper, of which ther are five, containig from 300 to 400 barrels each, where the wort is boiled with the hops, of which often two tons are used in a-day. The boiling beer is now pumped up to the coolers. To get a sight of these the visitor has to perform a climbing process similar to that required get at the upper gallery of St Paul’s, and, when he has reached the highest point ladders are capable of taking him, he finds his nose on a level with a black sea, whose area presents a surface of 32,000 square feet.

Photo adapted from an original by , and used at the Wikipedia article on the Black Eagle Brewery, on Brick Lane.

Homebrewer’s recipe calculator – free toy!

Just a quick plug for an excellent product I found a few months ago and have been using ever since

Qbrew is a free-source homebrewer’s recipe calculator which you can download and use to formulate recipes. Basically, you can put in the quantities of malt (or extract) and hops you’re using, set your “efficiency” (i.e. how good you are at turning raw ingredients into alcohol) and end up with predictions as to the colour, bitterness and strength of your beer. There are a load of recipe “styles” you can compare your beer too and there’s even a handy hydrometer correction tool.

How do you work out your efficiency? Well, if you have a few brews behind you, you can put in the raw ingredients and play with the setting until you get Qbrew to end up with your end product.

Once you can get over the disappointment of being told you are only 60% efficient, it’s an extremely useful way to predict future brews. [Various snotty homebrew books say that “beginners should achive around 80% efficiency”! I blame London tap water]

I’m fairly new to homebrewing, so was surprised to find that there are a number of homebrewing programmes out there – though most of them you seem to have to pay for, and I’m not sure if the added features are worth it (“Hop Time Degradation” calculator, anyone?)


Big brewers supporting small ones

News from the “Morning Advertiser” that Charles Wells pub company are to open a speciality beer pub in their home town of Bedford made me think about the big brewery business model.

In a period when small producers and local produce are cool, and big brands just aren’t, more and more of those big brands will want a piece of the smaller ones. In the past, they’d have taken over smaller brands, incorporated them, and eventually done away with them altogether. Now, it makes more sense to keep them intact, but at arms length.

McDonalds aren’t hiding the fact that they own a share of Pret a Manger, the posh high street sandwich chain (itself now also a big brand). They just don’t publicise it much. It’s insurance for them in case the bottom falls out of the little brown beef pattie market, and also protects them from accusations of being low-class, or peddlers of only unhealthy food. They’re hedging their bets.

Charles Wells Pub Company, a part of the growing Wells and Youngs’ empire, are helping the parent company to cover itself here, too. People can’t accuse it of crushing competition, or reducing variety if it keeps opening pubs selling boutique beers – beers, of course, which don’t directly challenge it in the marketplace.

Market forces might be working out in the favour of the British drinker: if customers want choice and the products of smaller breweries, the big breweries are going to get in on the act and help out.

Weltenburger Kloster

weltenburger_bottle.jpgFantastic news, which I somehow missed last month: Weltenburger Kloster beer now has a distributor in the UK, according the Tom Cannavan over at Beer Pages.

Weltenburger’s beers were some of the most consistently interesting and excellent we tasted on our recent trip to Bavaria. The Asam Bock really is as good as Tom says, although I was even more excited at the typo on the menu which suggested a double bock with tea (“Assam Bock”). A future brewing experiment…?

The Barock Dunkel, too, is very different to many other German dark beers, and really seems to earn the “dark” title.