A Tale of Three Pours

Mur­al at the Poech­enellekelder, Brus­sels.

There’s a certain ceremony to the way beer is poured in Belgium, except when there isn’t, and no two waiters have quite the same technique.

At the leg­endary Poech­enellekelder in cen­tral Brus­sels, oppo­site the stat­ue of the wee boy, we watched a clown­ish­ly expres­sive wait­er turn the pour­ing of a beer into per­for­ma­tive pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

He popped the cap with a flour­ish, almost seem­ing to pause for applause, angled the glass, and began to pour slow­ly.

Assess­ing the devel­op­ment of the head, he frowned and gave the bot­tle a sud­den jerk 30 cen­time­tres into the air, for just the briefest moment, caus­ing the foam to surge, but not much.

When he put the beer down on the table, smooth white sat half a cen­time­tre above the rim of the glass, as sol­id as a mac­aron, and there was­n’t a speck of yeast in the body of the beer.

The Worrier

Sit­ting out­side a cafe that seems to be called Primus Haacht with por­tions of blis­tered, gild­ed frites from Mai­son Antoine, we saw a Bel­gian wait­er get it wrong. He poured West­malle Tripel too vig­or­ous­ly and sighed with dis­may as it flowed over his hand like milk, splat­ter­ing on to the paving stones.

It’s fine, we don’t mind.”

No, no, it’s not accept­able… I’m gonna change it. I have to change it. Please, I’m sor­ry, wait here.”

The sec­ond attempt was over-cau­tious and, sure, we end­ed up with more beer in the glass, but it did­n’t look any­where near as good.

The Casual

At Beers Banks, our local on Rue Général Leman, we mar­velled at burly, effi­cient bar­men who treat­ed Trap­pist beers and alco­hol free pil­sner with about the same lev­el of respect.

They upend­ed bot­tles and flung the con­tents out as if they were emp­ty­ing tins of toma­toes into cook­ing pots, glanc­ing over their shoul­ders and talk­ing, slam­ming glass­es down on the bar to save sec­onds here and there.

But do you know what? Some­how every pour was PR pho­to­shoot per­fect.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 22 September 2018: Brussels, Muscles, Beer Tie Tussles

After a two-week break, here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs, from Autovac mild to pilot plants.

First, an inter­est­ing nugget from Birm­ing­ham: the long-derelict Fox & Grapes on Free­man Street in the city cen­tre has final­ly been pulled down as part of high-speed rail con­struc­tion. Why does this mat­ter? Because it was the last remain­ing bit of Old Birm­ing­ham.

The window of Mort Subite in Brussels.

Cana­di­an beer writer Jor­dan St. John recent­ly vis­it­ed Brus­sels and has writ­ten a long, enter­tain­ing, insight­ful piece record­ing his impres­sions of the city, and reflect­ing on the place of Bel­gian beer in the glob­al craft beer scene:

I can’t help but notice how same‑y the selec­tion is every­where; As though there had once been a list of approved Bel­gian beers that no one has updat­ed since the mid 2000’s. Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Bel­gium is that list, and look­ing at the selec­tion in the dusty shop win­dows it feels like no one has come along with the grav­i­tas to approve new addi­tions to the canon; it is stuck in amber… Cafe Bebo helps to ease me into the con­tem­po­rary. It even has beers from brew­eries found­ed this cen­tu­ry. I order De La Senne Zin­nebir and some cheese from the Orval Trap­pist monastery to snack on.

Detail from the poster for National Lampoon's European Vacation.

Still in Bel­gium we find Alec Lath­am dis­sect­ing the label of De la Sen­ne’s Taras Boul­ba to the nth degree:

The art­work is a send-up of the two com­pos­ite nations – Flan­ders and Wal­lo­nia – and their antag­o­nism of eachother. It employs satire, humour and car­i­ca­ture to make an impor­tant point: please dump the bag­gage of the past and let’s move on… Unlike the easy-going­ness of the beer, the label art­work is utter­ly loaded.

We can imag­ine this mak­ing for an inter­est­ing series, reverse engi­neer­ing the brand­ing process to work out what brew­eries want us to under­stand from the small choic­es they make in their graph­ic design.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 22 Sep­tem­ber 2018: Brus­sels, Mus­cles, Beer Tie Tus­sles”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 May 2018: Boozers, Brussels, Benin

It’s Saturday morning and time for us to round up links to all the writing about beer and pubs we’ve found stimulating, entertaining or engaging in the past week, from Huddersfield to West Africa.

But first, it’s pub geek Christ­mas: His­toric Eng­land has list­ed five notable post-war pubs, this being the first fruit of a research project by Dr Emi­ly Cole we first got excit­ed about back in 2015. It was love­ly to see not-beer-Twit­ter get all excit­ed about this sto­ry yes­ter­day and we sus­pect some of these pubs will find them­selves a bit busier than usu­al today. We’re plan­ning a trip to The Cen­tu­ri­on for next month.

A moose head at The Grove

At Beer Com­pur­ga­tion Mark John­son reflects on his sup­port for Hud­der­s­field Town, his con­nec­tion with his father, and how all this become entan­gled with his affec­tion for one par­tic­u­lar pub:

For many fans, foot­ball is about the match­day rit­u­als and expe­ri­ence as much as it about the 3pm Sat­ur­day kick-off. For my father and I the rou­tine became embed­ded – the Grove at 1pm. It stopped requir­ing organ­i­sa­tion with oth­ers com­ing from else­where. The texts about atten­dance weren’t nec­es­sary. We were in the Grove at 1pm.

You don’t have to be inter­est­ed in foot­ball to enjoy this post which is real­ly about the pre­car­i­ous­ness of impor­tant rela­tion­ships, whether they are with peo­ple or places. (Sug­gest­ed song pair­ing: ‘In My Life’ by the Bea­t­les.)

Adnams sign on brewery wall, Southwold.

It’s worth read­ing a pair of arti­cles by vet­er­an beer writer Roger Protz for his track­ing of one par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant ques­tion: how com­mit­ted are the estab­lished fam­i­ly brew­ers to cask ale? St Austell (and its sub­sidiary Bath Ales) seems very much so; Adnams? Maybe not quite so much:

When I sat down with chair­man Jonathan Adnams in the opu­lent splen­dour of the Swan Hotel fronting the brew­ery I checked I heard him cor­rect­ly when he said ear­ly in our con­ver­sa­tion: “By 2019 keg pro­duc­tion will over­take cask.”

Sure­ly not Adnams falling to keg? What has caused this aston­ish­ing turn round?

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 19 May 2018: Booz­ers, Brus­sels, Benin”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 April 2018: Beer Duty, Beavertown, Baudelaire

Here’s all the writing about beer from the past week that most engaged, informed or entertained us, from the Fall of the Craft Beer Empire to Gamma Ray in Waitrose.

Well, most of the past week – we wrote this post at break­fast time on Fri­day and sched­uled it to post, so if any­thing excit­ing hap­pened on Fri­day after­noon, we prob­a­bly missed it. We are now on hol­i­day for a week and a bit which means no round-up next week­end. If you want a fix of links in the mean­time check out Stan Hierony­mus’s Mon­day post and Alan McLeod’s on Thurs­day.

Adapt­ed from ‘The End is Nigh’ by Jason Cartwright on FLICKR, CC BY 2.0

We’ll start with a piece by Pete Brown which prods at the kind of would-be sen­sa­tion­al news sto­ry based on a piece of research you have to pay to read in full:

Have you noticed a decline in the demand for craft beer? Why do you think this is?”

I stared at the ques­tion, cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance mak­ing me feel momen­tar­i­ly floaty.… The rea­son I was con­fused is that it hasn’t hap­pened – not yet. When I got these ques­tions, I’d just deliv­ered the keynote speech to the SIBA con­fer­ence. To write it, I’d had to do a lot of dig­ging. I’d dis­cov­ered that craft beer vol­ume increased by 23 per cent last year, and that ana­lysts are pre­dict­ing con­tin­ued growth until at least 2021. I’d learned that busi­ness lead­ers in the food and bev­er­age indus­try had named craft beer the most impor­tant trend across the whole of food and drink – com­fort­ably ahead of low alco­hol drinks, arti­san cof­fee and craft spir­its – for the fifth year run­ning.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 14 April 2018: Beer Duty, Beaver­town, Baude­laire”

Pub Life: Brussels Edition

All the usual trappings: mirrors, coat-hooks, brown wood, low-light, stern overseer, aloof bar staff, glinting glassware of every variety, and two English tourists experiencing mind-expansion.

They have two beers on the go already but are too excit­ed to stop there.

Bruv, bruv – you’ve got a lot of beers, man. Like… a lot. What would you per­son­al­ly rec­om­mend?”

The bar­man (dunk­ing glass­es in soapy water, run­ning a hand around the rim, dunk­ing again, rins­ing in cold water) paus­es to think. “Per­son­al­ly? I like this.” He presents a bot­tle of Orval like a wait­er with a vin­tage wine.

Yeah, open it up, bruv – open it up. Let’s do this.”

You want two glass­es?”

I got mon­ey, bruv – my pock­ets ain’t shal­low. We can have a bot­tle each.”

Of course but you have two beers already and it is quite strong.”

OK, we’ll have one of these, too.”

The tourist points at the lager tap from which the oth­er bar­man is in the process of pour­ing eight 25cl glass­es, slic­ing at the foam with a knife so that it surges up smoother behind the cut.

That? Uh… that’s just a nor­mal pils. Let me give you this with two glass­es and if you want some­thing else, no sweat – order it when you’re ready.”

The tourists are now shar­ing three beers between them, swig­ging and laugh­ing, get­ting loud­er as time pass­es. Both bar­men avoid their gaze, slide past the spokesman­’s upraised hand, and ignore his ever more insis­tent calls: “Bruv! Sir! Mate! Hel­lo! HELLO?” Even­tu­al­ly the boss barks and the oth­er bar­man reluc­tant­ly attends.

What would you rec­om­mend? Some­thing mad. Some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Okay, how about…” He presents a bot­tle of gueuze.

Yeah, two of them.”

Uh… It’s a lit­tle bit… This one is a spe­cial beer, quite sour. Why don’t you share? I’ll give you two wine glass­es.”

The tourist presents his wal­let, wav­ing a wad of cash.

I can pay, bruv! Just give me two. Oh, no – tell you what, give me a big bot­tle! You got that in a big bot­tle?”

Yeah but, I mean… It’s like, fif­teen euro. Seri­ous­ly, have this small one and if you don’t like it, you haven’t–”

But if we do like it, can we part exchange for a big bot­tle?”

The bar­man con­sid­ers, and shrugs.

OK, sure.”

They do not like it.

But by this point, it does­n’t mat­ter, because they are gig­gling, their stools invol­un­tar­i­ly rotat­ing beneath them, feet slip­ping from the rests. They are slap­ping their thighs, cry­ing, weep­ing with laugh­ter. Drain­ing glass­es, drain­ing bot­tles, slurp­ing down yeasty dregs. Hav­ing fun… for now.

Nei­ther the elder­ly woman with her news­pa­per and espres­so, nor the mid­dle-aged cou­ple hold­ing hands as they con­sult a tool cat­a­logue along­side two per­fect chal­ices of blonde beer, seem to notice or care.

When we leave, the spokesman has his hand in the air again: “Bruv, bruv – what you got with fruit in it?”

The bar­men pre­tend they can’t hear as they urgent­ly restock the fridges, urgent­ly clean some glass­es, urgent­ly dis­ap­pear into the dark­est cor­ners they can find.