The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'beer'


Germany's brewing industry, often regarded as a benchmark around the world, is not doing very well, with breweries closing and others cutting their production. One of the factors causing this may be Germany's ultra-traditional brewing culture, where a 16th-century beer purity law (the Reinheitsgebot), whilst no longer officially on the books, is still widely followed, severely constraining what may be considered beer in polite company:

These days, Germany's celebrated brewing towns and atmospheric old taverns can feel like retirement homes. Visitors to the south of Germany today (where more than half the nation's breweries are located) find few of the ardent young beer lovers that crowd craft watering holes in Copenhagen; Brussels; London; New York; Portland, Ore.; and even Rome. And while it's true that last fall's 200th Oktoberfest was bigger than ever, using Oktoberfest to measure the health of German beer culture is like using Disney World admissions to measure the health of American cinema. Once a decorous wedding pageant, Oktoberfest is a hot mess, with cheesy carnival rides and hordes chugging cheap lager as if it were Hawaiian Punch. Paris Hilton even showed up for the anniversary celebration.
A law enacted in 1516 to control prices and shield the baking industry from supply shortages by excluding rye and wheat from brewing, the Reinheitsgebot stipulated that beer must contain only malted barley, hops, and water (wheat and yeast were written in later). The decree—often described as a the world's first consumer protection legislation—dried up the ancient pre-hops tradition of Gruitbier, which likely included yarrow, bog myrtle, juniper, rosemary, mugwort, and woodruff—all perfectly useful bittering and flavoring plants. It also pulled the plug on Köttbusser, an ancient brew made with oats, honey, and molasses. While the Reinheitsgebot was actually overturned in 1987 as an impediment to European free trade, many German companies adhere to it for marketing purposes, especially in Bavaria. When it comes to beer for local consumers (exports are mostly brewed without the strictures), it's still the de facto law of the land.
Another issue is the hypnotic marketing force of Reinheitsgebot may make Germans less sophisticated tasters by limiting their perception of what a good beer can be. When asked, many Germans—even well-traveled beer-industry professionals—tend to wrinkle their noses at beers of foreign style or origin. They would sooner drink cheap biermischgetränke or mass-produced domestic beers mocked as spülwasser (dishwater) than try anything exotic, such as Belgian ales spiced with herbs or the sort of hoppy, aromatic ales and lagers making waves in the American craft-beer market. If Germans want the taste of something new and exciting, they look to other forms of alcohol.
Gradually, however, things are changing, as a new generation of brewers is starting to explore more adventurous forms of brewing.
Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle in Cologne, a nano-brewery that opened in 2002, is also defying national and local traditions with increasing chutzpah: braumeister Peter Esser's latest beers include a dunkel (dark) seasoned with rosemary, an American-style IPA (called Fritz IPA), a 5.8 percent ale infused with hibiscus flowers (Pink Panther) and what's thought to be the first American-style imperial stout ever brewed in Germany (Freigeist Caulfield).
It's interesting to compare this to the situation in Britain, where another tradition (that of "real ale") is accused by some of holding back the local brewing culture.

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The story usually told about British brewing goes something like this: since time immemorial, Britain has had a fine tradition of brewing rich, foamy ales, in shades from amber to nut-brown. Then someone invented lager, which was cheap and convenient, and the undiscerning masses abandoned the venerable traditions of old in droves, instead choosing to down pints of ice-cold Foster's and Carling, and soon the "pint of mild" all but disappeared. As would English ale have altogether, were it not for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a sort of Village Green Preservation Society of beer comprised largely of paunchy, hirsute middle-aged men in handkerchief hats, who have so far successfully managed to preserve the tradition, coining the term "Real Ale", and expelling the serpent of unwelcome innovation, such as pressurised kegs, from the Edenic garden that is the British pub. The subtext here being that any use of technologies more recent than a few centuries ago is somehow cheating, and the slippery slope to forgetting Britain's fine heritage and gormlessly pouring pints of bland, gaseous lager down one's gob like some kind of benighted colonial.

Now, however, a new generation of British craft brewers is challenging the CAMRA orthodoxy, and its claim to ownership of proper beer in Britain:

The Scotsman believes Camra holds back innovation in the UK; he takes his inspiration from the US, where a wildly innovative new breed of brewers have revolutionised American beer.
Watt prefers to see his beers served from a keg than a cask, an approach that brings him into conflict with many of the craft brewers who have sprung up across the UK in recent years. "We want to get beyond the people who currently drink good beers in the UK," he explains. "We want to convert fizzy yellow lager drinkers into craft beer aficionados. The easiest way to do that is with keg – if you give them a cask ale, it's so alien, it's much warmer and it doesn't have the nice mouth feel. Keg is much better for the beers we produce."
More power to them; in the USA and Australia, where traditions are less entrenched, there is a lot of mass-market swill, but also a lot of superb craft breweries. Perhaps, in adopting the idea of Real Ale as the sole bulwark against homogeneous corporate lager, Britain is erring too much on the side of conservatism.

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A new theory claims that human monogamy is a direct result of the development of beer; or more precisely, firstly, that monogamy was the result of social changes that arose from the shift from a nomadic to an agricultural (and thus hierarchical and patriarchial) lifestyle, and secondly, that the main impetus to move to agriculture wasn't so much a desire to build cities or empires but to brew beer.

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Britain's weights and measures authority, which controls, among other things, the measures in which alcoholic beverages may be served, is considering introducing a new measure for beer glasses. The new measure will be two-thirds of a pint in size (equivalent to the "schooner" in New South Wales) and will be lumbered with the somewhat awkward name of the "twother", at least until someone thinks of a better one for it.

The idea was mooted by the British Beer and Pubs Association, which believes that it is the ideal glass for a high-strength beer or lager.
Which makes sense, as 2/3 of a pint (378ml, with the British pint being defined as 568ml; the Australian pint is 2ml larger, for what it's worth, while the American pint, just shy of half a litre, is an entirely different measure) is quite close to a large beer in parts of continental Europe (where such a measure is typically 400ml; this is the case in Italy, and I think Spain as well).

Of course, not everybody agrees; the Campaign for Real Ale has criticised the measure, saying that the government should instead focus on righting existing injustices:

“I am not aware of any demand for this extra measure. We think the Government would do better to tackle the problem of drinkers who are getting short pints. There are still many pubs who serve pints 10 per cent short. The head should be on the top of the pint but the rule is so vague trading standards won’t bring prosecutions.”

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When the New South Wales town of Hinton was isolated by flooding, the situation was looking grim; there was concern that the local pub would run catastrophically out of beer before a bit rugby league match. Luckily, disaster was averted when the State Emergency Services sprang into action, delivering 12 kegs and 3 crates of beer, just in time. The town is expected to remain cut off until Friday.

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New research from Cardiff University has found a correlation between violence and the price of beer; namely, the cheaper beer is, the more violence there is:

The researchers examined admissions to 58 hospital accident and emergency departments over a five year period and found that as the price of beer increased, violence-related injuries decreased.
The study also looked at other factors, finding that increases in poverty, youth unemployment, diversity of ethnic population, major sporting events and it being summer also independently predicted an increase in violence.

I wonder how much of the study (which was carried out in England and Wales) is specific to Anglo-Saxon or British cultural factors, and how much of it would translate to other societies.

Recently, an article in the press quoted a British doctor who was proposing raising the drinking age in Britain from 18 to 21. His rationale seemed to be that Blairite attempts at introducing a "Continental drinking culture" were doomed to fail because Anglo-Saxons were incapable of handling alcohol as responsibly as the French and Italians, and hence Britain should learn from that other great Anglo-Saxon state across the Atlantic. This was duly lambasted by commentators aghast at yet another proposal to import more crude American ideas whilst ignoring the more sophisticated and humane ones across the Channel.

(via Mind Hacks) alcohol beer cause and effect society uk violence 0


A Norwegian woman was pleasantly surprised when she turned a kitchen tap on and beer came out. Because of high Scandinavian alcohol taxes, beer is prohibitively expensive in Norway, which must have made her surprise even more pleasant. Meanwhile, in the bar two floors below, the beer taps only issued water; it's not recorded how the bar patrons reacted to this. The mixup was due to a worker getting two pipes the wrong way around.

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A (possibly somewhat biased) social history of drinking in England reveals that talk of a pathology of "binge drinking" is more the product of Victorian squeamishness and snobbery than anything else:

In fact we are rather poor drinkers compared with our ancestors. Queen Elizabeth I was renowned for drinking ale stronger than any of her courtiers could take. During her reign, British beers were so popular abroad that exports were only permitted if sufficient quantities of wood to replace the casks used was imported. Elizabethan brewers were often urged to reduce the formidable strengths of their beers, one of which, Pharaoh, was so named because it "would not let the people go". James took a similar line, only to be told that the brewers would be more minded to follow his advice were he rather more prompt in settling his bills.
Expressions like "binge drinking" tell us less about our present drinking habits than they do about the neo-Puritan climate we live in. In truth the drinking habits of many have not changed greatly, but they are seen from the standpoint of a society that does not recognise that the values and attitudes of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras were the exception rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, England's drinking problems come not from an excess love for beer, but ultimately from its displacement by things such as gin.

Gin forced people to realise for the first time that it was possible to make intoxicating beverages that were not sustaining and wholesome, and from then it was but a short step to demonising alcohol in all its guises, to separate the middle and upper classes from their previous habits and haunts, and to allow them to convince themselves that their domestic consumption of wine and gin was somehow superior. This attitude prevails today, principally perpetuated by newspapers.

The author, former secretary general of the Society of Independent Brewers, concludes to say that getting smashed on good English ale can be a fine thing indeed:

If journalists would stop writing hysterical leaders about "24-hour drinking" and turn their hands instead to thoughtful drinks page features about the merits of our national drink, that would be useful in improving debate and reconnecting us with our forgotten history. Drunkenness is an attribute of those who do not appreciate what they are consuming, not of those who do.

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A 21-year-old Perth man is lucky to be alive after a home-made motorised beer bong, with a pump powered by an electric drill, blasted a shot of beer down his throat, rupturing his stomach and forcing beer into his abdomen. (via bOING bOING)

"No one else had any problems and I didn't think it would be any different to other things like funnels that people use," he said. "But I knew something wasn't right soon after I drank from it. I started spewing up red stuff and was in a lot of pain."
Surgeon David Cooke said the split in the wall of the man's stomach had pushed food and beer into his abdominal cavity, making him septic. His insides had to be "washed out" twice and he was put on heavy-duty antibiotics.

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Move over Che: some outfit in Victoria are producing a beer named Chopper Heavy. It's described as "Australian style", and also features on the label an irreverent doggerel verse about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I've no idea what the verse has to do with Mr. Read (perhaps he's a poet as well as a hitman and visual artist?), or indeed whether he has licensed his likeness to the brewery.

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