Friday, December 31, 2010

Counting the Hours

Having driven back from South Carolina yesterday, Mrs Velkyal and I will be on our travels again in order to mark the new year with Relentless Thirst's Eric, and a few others. I am sure that much good beer will be imbibed and discussed, I am looking forward to it very much, and my kilt will be making an appearance as well.

As in previous years, tomorrow will see the beginning of my annual alcohol fast/detox, and given the fact that I generally only drink at weekends these days, my first beer of 2011 will be on February 4th at the earliest.

Of course, I have stocked up on material for the blog, so it will be business as usual on that front.

All that remains then is to wish you good people a happy and prosperous 2011.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Simple Algebeera

Pilsner ≠ light beer
Pilsner ≠ Bud/Miller/Coors
Pilsner ≠ over hopped Bud
Pilsner ≠ any old pale lager

Pilsner = triple decoction mashing
Pilsner = only Saaz hops
Pilsner = malty backbone with hoppy bite
Pilsner = minimum 30 days lagering

Questions? No? Good.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blogs

So to the final installment of the Fuggled Review of the Year, the blogs that I have enjoyed reading throughout 2010. Again making that final list of three is fraught with difficulty, thus requiring a list of honourable mentions again. I think today though, the honourable mention list will come first:
Lots of quality reading there, and it was certainly a hard task to whittle it down to the following finalists:


I have a tie for the best beer related blog from Virginia simply between Eric and James, of Relentless Thirst and A Homebrew Log respectively, cater to different aspects of my love of beer. Relentless Thirst has wide ranging posts of various aspects on the beer world which I find well thought out and thought provoking, whereas A Homebrew Log does exactly what it says on the tin - it is about homebrewing, but it is well written and always informative. I have had the pleasure of sharing beers, both commercial and homebrew, with both Eric and James, and they are top blokes, with a passion for beer and brewing. Keep your eyes open for an upcoming project the three of us are working on.


If you know anything about me, you know I love session beer, and what to see more of it produced over here in the States. Lew's The Session Beer Project then is an invaluable resource for keeping abreast of developments in session beer across the US.


What can you say about Ron that hasn't already been said? Challenging, backed up with facts rather than fables and recipes to brew historical beers! Not only is Ron's blog required reading as far as I am concerned, but the fact that it was one of Ron's books that inspired Devils Backbone to brew a 1904 London Stout recipe, which was one of my favourite beers of the year, has to be a good thing.

But as ever, the final few must become just the one, and so the 2010 Fuggled Blog of the Year is:
  • Shut Up About Barclay Perkins
Excellent reading all round and here's to another year of banging the drum about IPAs real nature!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark Beer

Whereas the Amber Beer of the Year presented me with the challenge of where to draw the line between amber and brown, the dark beer category presents me with a very different challenge. Simply put, this year has been excellent for dark beers, whether brown ales, milds, stouts or porters, even the occasional Black IPA (sic) hasn't been entirely awful. As such, this category will not only have the same "bests" as the previous categories, but will also have several honourable mentions. On then to the lists:
Before discussing the relative merits of the various finalists, the honourable mentions go out to:
  • Virginia - Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout, Blue Mountain Original Summer Mild, Williamsburg Alewerks Tavern Ale, Devils' Backbone 1904 Ramsey Stout.
  • USA - Terrapin Moo Hoo, Samuel Adams Honey Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Sierra Nevada Stout, Stone Smoked Porter, Highland Oatmeal Porter
  • World - BrewDog Paradox Smokehead, Unibroue Terrible, Zatec Black Lager, Porterhouse Oyster Stout, Fullers London Porter, Young's Double Chocoloate Stout, 

Ok, so on to the beers that made the list. The Washington's Porter from Williamsburg Alewerks is a beer that not only made excellent drinking, but goes well in fruit cake as well. Rich, chocolately and velvety, it is simply a wonderful beer that goes down insanely easily and is so packed full of flavour that I wouldn't worry too much if all other beers were outlawed from midnight.

My first taste of Left Hand's Milk Stout was in St Augustine, Florida. It was hotter than hell and to be perfectly honest stout of any kind would not have really hit the spot, though tasty it was. Come autumn, the leaves and temperature we plummeting and Left Hand had taken over the taps at Beer Run, along with Terrapin. Milk Stout, poured into a pint nonic? Yes please. A second just minutes later, you bet! Everything you expect from a stout, and then the creaminess of lactose. Simply lovely.


I have waxed lyrical about Porterhouse's Wrasslers XXXX before, so when I learnt that bottles of this delightful stout would be available in the US I immediately emailed every bottle shop in Charlottesville to find out if they intended to stock it. Beer Run said they would and patiently I waited. Then I blew $40 on getting plenty when it arrived. Big on chocolate and with a healthy bitterness to balance it all out, this is one of the best stouts available.

A very difficult choice, very difficult. However, the Fuggled Dark Beer for 2010 is:
  • Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX
Sure there may be a hefty dose of nostalgia in my choice, but the fact that the $40's worth of Wrasslers in the cellar has been refreshed more than once is testament to my enduring love of this beer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber Beer

Perhaps the worst thing about deciding on my Amber Beer of the Year is quite simply this, where do you draw the line between an amber beer and a brown beer? In the finest traditions of Fuggled, I am just taking an arbitrary decision on a case by case basis - or to put it another way, making it up as I go along. Anyway, my overtaxed assistant is here with the envelope, and the contenders are:
  • Best Virginia Amber - Devils' Backbone Ale of Fergus
  • Best Rest of US Amber - Samuel Adams Boston Lager
  • Best Rest of the World Amber - Uerige Doppelsticke
I fear I am in danger of being accused of bias toward Devils' Backbone, but what the heck, Jason is making some superb beer down in Wintergreen, and Mrs Velkyal and I have been known to make the 45 minute journey just for a couple of afternoon pints. I can honestly say that I can think of no other brewery on the planet we would do that for, add to the fact that Devils' Backbone is only place near Charlottesville that we have taken every single visitor we have had, and that should tell you something. Ale of Fergus is kind of a hybrid in some ways, a cross between a mild and a 60/- Scottish Ale, though at a highly sessionable 4.4% it would be closer to an 80/-. I have a passion for beers I can put plenty of away, whilst still finding complexity and balance in the beer. Ale of Fergus is such a beer.

Some people, for whatever daft reasons, have a downer on Samuel Adams, claiming they are too big to be a craft brewer, or some other specious nonsense. At the end of the day, they brew some decent beers, the core brands of which are near universally available - sometimes it just sounds like sour grapes. Anyway, I wrote about Boston Lager again back in the summer, whilst on holiday in Daytona Beach and the local shops had a comedically poor beer selection. This is where Boston Lager comes into its own - it is consistent, flavourful, easy drinking. Sure it might not be the sexiest, latest, uber-hopped imperial bourbon barrel aged fad de jour, but it is good beer and I find it always enjoyable.

I love altbier. From the very first drop of Schumacher Alt at a festival in Berlin I have been a devotee of this fine style. Earlier this year I picked up a bottle of Uerige Doppelsticke at Beer Run (if I were doing a pub of the year, it would be Beer Run - which I guess just became a de facto award) and what a revelation it was - smooth, sweet, boozy and simply wonderful - I went back and bought more.

Three very good beers, though obviously only one can be crowned Fuggled Amber beer of 2010, and that is:
  • Uerige Doppelsticke
An excellent example of German brewing excellence, and proof (though plenty more exists) that there is far more to German beer than Pils and hefeweizen - of course, you, good reader, already know that.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Beer

As I said on Friday, for this year's review posts I am sticking to three very broad categories of beer - pale, amber and dark. What I didn't mention though was how I planned to draw up my shortlist of three beers for each category, from which the over all winner would be selected. I thought long and hard about this question. Well, ok then, I decided to do the first thing that popped into my mind. The three beers will be as follows:
  • best from Virginia
  • best from the rest of the US
  • best from the rest of the world
So, without further ado, the contenders for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year (a prize still unburdened by history or monetary value) are:
  • Devils' Backbone Trukker Ur-Pils
  • Sierra Nevada Torpedo 
  • Unibroue La Fin du Monde

If you know me, you know that Bohemian Pilsner is one of my favourite styles of beer. It is a style of beer that is very easy to get wrong, and exceedingly difficult to right, despite the simplicity of the ingredients. I will continue to maintain that only a triple decocted, 100% Saaz hopped brew can be called a Pilsner, anything else is just pale lager. It might be very drinkable, it might even garner rave reviews, but it is not a Pilsner. When I read on the Devils' Backbone blog, written by the brewer, Jason, that he was planning to make a Pilsner based on a recreation of the 1842 recipe devised by Josef Groll, I was immediately intrigued. That Jason then invited me to come out and help brew the beer made it all the more special for me - I say "help" in the broadest possible sense, that sense being the helping by not getting in the way, as much as possible. When the beer was lagered and available, avail myself of it I did, with gusto. It was simply an excellent version of one of my favourite styles. As I have said before, if I had been served that in one of Prague's many fine watering holes, I would have been delighted. There really is no higher praise.

This is quite possibly the grossest heresy you will ever hear from a beer lover living in the USA. I am not a hop head. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate hoppy beers, but I think that a lot of "craft" breweries focus too much on the little green cone to the detriment of the malt. For an IPA to get into my list of beers always in the cellar, it needs to have a good malty body to stand up to the hops. Enter, then, Sierra Nevada's quite simply gorgeous Torpedo. I think the thing I like most about Torpedo is that it isn't just another grapefruit bomb, the dry hopping with Citra lends it a more tropical fruit flavour which I find very appealing and a refreshing change from the Cascade/Amarillo dominated IPAs of this world. Balanced and yet nicely bitter, Torpedo achieves those three elements of good beer in my world, balanced, complex, drinkable.


For my best Rest of the World beer, I head over the border to Canada and Unibroue's wonderful La Fin du Monde. Admittedly there was a late charge in the form of Unibroue's Don de Dieu which I polished off last night, but I followed that up with another bottle of La Fin du Monde, and the winner was easy really. For a 9%abv beer, La Fin du Monde is very drinkable, smooth and laced with banana aromas - almost as though they had been soaked in spiced rum. I first had some Unibroue beers by chance a few years back in France, and still count it as one of my favourite beer discoveries.

Three excellent beers then, but in the immortal words of Connor MacLeod, there can be only one, and that one is:
  • Devils' Backbone Trukker Ur-Pils
Authentic ingredients, traditional methods and a spectacular result. This is what craft brewing is about in my opinion, and the Trukker Ur-Pils hit the mark in every conceivable way and is thus the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2010.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Review Reinheitsgebot

It being the festive season, the reviewer in every blogger inevitably makes an appearance, and really, how different is a review of the year from telling people how a beer tastes? In years past I have written somewhere in the region of 10 posts with the words "Review of the Year" in the title, looking at pale ales, pale lagers, dark lagers, stouts/porters and so on and so on.

This year though I have decided to change things around, or to put it in less eloquent language, I can't be arsed writing 10 blog posts about various beer styles, rounded off by a beer of the year. So I intend to limit myself to 4 posts, as follows:
  • Pale Beer of the Year
  • Amber Beer of the Year
  • Dark Beer of the Year
  • Blogger of the Year
Simple really, only 4 elements to a review of year, and I won't even charge you a single pfennig for the pleasure.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hitting the Mark

I posted the following status on my Facebook account the other day:

"you can keep your extreme beers as far as I am concerned, nothing beats balance, complexity and drinkability in a beer. Williamsburg Alewerks' Washington's Porter is great example of just that".

The more I think about beer, both in the context of the stuff I buy and that which I brew, I am more and more convinced that those three descriptors are the basis of good beer (regardless of who brews it):
  • balance
  • complexity
  • drinkability
I happily admit that my preference in beer is toward the maltier end of the spectrum, and on the occasions when I do venture into hop head territory, I like a beer that has a solid malty backbone. Balance is something though which is difficult to achieve and is the key criteria by which a beer should be judged in my world - I don't suck lemons as a general rule, any more than I drink syrup (on a side note, one thing you will never see me do is drown pancakes in syrup).

I know very few people who don't like complex flavours in their beer, but I wonder sometimes if people confuse complexity with extremity, or in some cases simply too many flavours. By complexity I mean a beer that develops while drinking it, you could say unravelling as the temperature rises and releases differing aromas and flavours. The thing I find with a good complex beer is that the flavour improves as you drink it, unlike some well known beers which taste awful when served a single degree above freezing. Forgive the crappy analogy (are not all analogies crap at the end of the day?), but a good beer is like a Gypsy Rose Lee interpretation of burlesque, beertease you could say.

It stands to reason that beer is made for drinking, so a beer really isn't all that great if you can have a half pint and not want more. When I say "not want more" I am thinking of a situation where you don't have to drive home or similar, but you drink it and by the end of it you aren't interested in taking another drop of it. I often have to suppress my sarcastic side when I hear people describe something as "very drinkable", what the hell did you expect?

I find then, that when I go to the pub, I am looking more and more for beers that I can sup several of and not worry too much about my legs refusing to function when I get up to go home. Sure, I like stronger beers such as barleywine and imperial stout, but find myself distinctly unfussed by double IPAs and the like - I can sup on a barleywine over a longer period of time than I can a DIPA, and still enjoy the beer.

Coming back then to the Porter in the second half of the quote there, Williamsburg Alewerks' Washington's Porter. When Mrs V and I went to Williamsburg in October, I bought a growler of the porter from the brewery shop and duly put it in the fridge when we got back to CVille. There it sat until I used about a pint in my porter fruit cake. It went back into the fridge, with me fully intending to drink it that evening after the baking was finished. 

For reasons that escape me now, it sat in the fridge for a further 3 weeks, until I used it in a date, apricot and cranberry fruit cake on Sunday. I was convinced it would be lifeless and dull having been opened some 21 days prior, yet it was in excellent condition and the remaining half a growler or so (about 2 pints), was gently imbibed over a few hours. Lots of chocolate and coffee flavours, laced with a US Fuggle bitterness made it my beer highlight of the weekend. At 6.3%, it doesn't really fall into the category of a "session beer", but it hits the mark perfectly in terms of balance, complexity and drinkability.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Into Darkness...

Think Czech lager.

Ok, do you have an image in your head of Czech lager? Let me guess, it is golden, topped with a frothy white head (which, if well made and poured, can support the weight of a small coin), the nose is grassy, lightly lemony, all the things you expect from Saaz, the taste is bready and malty and when you get a great example of Czech beer you wonder why anyone would ever drink anything else. That is Czech lager, yes? The vast majority of the time you'd be right, but for the 5% of beer production in the Czech Republic devoted to the dark arts, to tmavý, or černý, ležák (dark or black respectively). Legally speaking the only official name for a dark lager in the Czech Republic is tmavý, and thus that is the term I will use.


According to Czech tradition, or at least the things I was told by Czech men in pubs when I first moved to Prague back in the 20th Century, tmavý is beer for women, specifically beer to give women bigger breasts. What they neglected to mention was that the dark lagers of the Czech Republic are a whole different world from the Pilsner inspired golden lagers, and so it was only in my last few years in the city that I got a taste for them.


When I went down to Devils Backbone to help brew their recreation of the 1842 Pilsner recipe, Jason and I discussed at length Czech beer, and came back again and again to tmavý and how it differs from the German dark lagers, dunkels and schwarzbier. We came to the conclusion that it would be an interesting project to brew a tmavý and so we set about finding as much information as we could. Emails were sent to various Czech brewers, websites were read in various languages, style guidelines were consulted, though not in the obvious places - certain websites are of the opinion that a Czech tmavý is either a dunkel or a schwarzbier. Why then do I maintain that tmavý should have it's own style? Simply because the history of dark lager in Bohemia is very different from that of Bavaria, where dark lagers preceded pale lagers by a few centuries, in Bohemia, however what became dark lager was dark ale until the 1890s - you could then argue, if you so wish, that tmavý is in reality more closely related to porter than dunkel or schwarzbier. Indeed, the iconic, and distinctly stouty dark lager from U Fleků is known to have been warm fermented until that era.


Having garnered the relevant information, got the necessary malts and hops, scheduled a time which worked for all involved, we got together on Saturday to brew. Taking part in the brewday on Saturday was myself obviously, Jason and Aaron from Devil's Backbone, Lyle Brown of Battlefield Brewery in Fredericksburg and Nathan Zeender, a journalist from DC, whose article in Brew Your Own magazine about kvass was fascinating.


We used floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, Munich malt, CaraBohemian malt and Carafa II special malt in the grist, and only Saaz hops in the boil, to achieve about 25IBUs, the yeast is Jason's prefered Augustiner lager yeast, and the brewery's incredibly soft well water. Because we wanted to be as traditional and authentic as possible, we did a double decoction mash. When everything was done, which took about 8 hours, we had, in the fermenter, 11 hectolitres of 14º tmavý speciál - that's 1100 litres or about 290 gallons. The beer will ferment for about 8 or 9 days and be lagered until, at the earliest, February 1st 2011, though ideally we would like to do 2 months worth of lagering.


For naming this beer, I suggested, and Jason agreed, that we use the name of an ancient Slavic goddess, Morana, the goddess of winter and death, who goes under several other names as well, but Morana was the one I liked best. Traditionally when Spring comes, an effigy of Morana is burnt to celebrate the end of winter, and given the timing of the beer being released, it is kind of fitting that a beer dedicated to her would be available during the last throes of winter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brewer of the Week

This week, Fuggled heads back to Blighty, to the place where my family spent many a holiday when I was young, Norfolk in East Anglia, to Norwich in particular. They used to say of Norwich that there was a pub for every day of the year, as well as a church for every week of the year. So with further ado, I give you......

Name: Jenni Nicholls
Brewery: Northcote Brewery


How did you get into brewing as a career?

I’m very new to brewing, this is my first commercial brewing business, I’ve always been interested in food and drink and it seemed like a natural progression to go from drinking to brewing. I wanted to have my own business and with the recent surge of interest in real ale in the UK, it seemed like the logical step.


What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

You have to be hard working, and thorough. Obviously traits like being inventive and having a good palate are useful, but you wont get anywhere if you’re not willing to put in the hours.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

I did home brew, our first beer – Cow Tower – is based on a home brew recipe. It does change the final product to some degree, it will never be exactly the same, every brewing system does change the character of the beer.


If you did homebrew, do you still?

Not really, although I have my small pilot brewery system that I use to test recipes on.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

I think Golden Spire is the favourite, I need to tweak it more to get it exactly how I want it, but it’s getting there.


If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

I’ve never worked in another brewery.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

Again, probably Golden Spire.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

It depends, if you are calling your beer a certain style, ie a Trappist type beer, then it should be fairly true to style. However, IPA is so open to interpretation these days, you even get hoppy porters getting called a black IPA, that you can’t be too picky with names, you end up with hundreds of different style names that are really just a slight tweak away from something else that already exists.


If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

There are a lot I’d like to work with, I think Hard Knott are very interesting they’re not worried about breaking some rules and creating really unusual and innovative beers.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Jaipur!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2011 Draws Nigh

Firstly let me say a heart felt thanks to everyone who has bought the e-book or the calendar, it is very much appreciated and I hope you get plenty of use from whichever one, or both, that you bought.

What's that you say? You didn't know about my e-book and calendar? Well, in that case let me recap.


The e-book is a pocket guide to some of the many pubs in Prague. Please note though that the focus is on what I consider good pubs, regardless of the beer they serve. For example, I happen to thing that the Potrefena Husa chain of pubs is generally good, although I wouldn't drink Staropramen in them, rather Leffe Bruin. Rather than just a list of drinking establishments, the book also has 10 pub tours, with directions to the various pubs and some pointers to interesting things to see on the way. The price of said guide? Just $4.99 (that's just over 3 quid for the Brits and 3.75 Euros for those in Euroland)! I have said it before, and will say it again, the e-book features some wonderful photography by Black Gecko's Mark Stewart, who I hope to do some more collaborations with in the near future.


Perhaps, though, you won't be heading to the world's most beautiful beer drinking city any time soon, but would like to whet your appetite for such a trip. Step in, then, the 2011 Fuggled Calendar. More beautiful pictures from the esteemed Mr Stewart, capturing the atmosphere of some of Prague's best pubs. What better for the beer and pub lover in your life, or just for lovers of great photography - Mrs Velkyal has the 2010 version in her closet at work, and will have the 2011 edition shortly. The price of said treasure trove of timely delight? $15.50 plus shipping (slightly more than a tenner en Grande Bretagne, and about 11 Euros where applicable).

In the side bar you can see buttons which will take you to the ordering pages for each product, so buy something for the beer lover in your life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

And the winner is....

Before announcing the winner of the first Fuggled Christmas Giveaway, I would like to make a meanderingly meaningless speech about how beer is more than just a sport, it is a unifying force in the world. I would like to, sure, but I am not Sepp Blatter and Fuggled is not FIFA, so I guess you good people just want to know who gave me the fattest of brown envelopes in order to win the coveted price.


Firstly though, the answer to the question. The first pub to sell Pilsner Urquell in Prague was, of course, U Pinkasů. It was in 1843 that Jakub Pinkas gave up making ecclesiastical vestments to bring the new wunderbier to the people of Prague, just five months after Josef Groll's brew was first tapped in Plzeň. Today the pub is one of the better places to get a half litre of Pilsner Urquell, especially in the summer when the garden is open. The picutre above is by Mark Stewart, my photography guru and all round top bloke.

So anyway, the winner of a Fuggled t-shirt is:
  • Dan Herman, of Greenville, South Carolina!
Congratulations, and I will be in touch later today to sort out colours, sizes and other logistical type things. To those that entered but didn't win, thanks for taking part!

While on the subject of winning things, I was very happy to discover yesterday that I will be adding some more bling to my collection. My Samoset Vintage 2009, which I wrote about last week, took silver in the Strong Ale category at the Palmetto State Brewers' Open.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Answer is NOT 42!

At about midday on Sunday, I will no doubt be hungover. Tomorrow, Mrs Velkyal and I continue our mission to put thousands of miles on our car, by driving to Chimney Rock, North Carolina for her uncle's Christmas soiree. I may take the opportunity to rid my cellar of a back log of beer that I have to admit I am unlikely to drink - though I may keep a few bottles for beer hacking purposes.

Whilst in the throes of said hangover, I will reach my hand out to my lovely assistant and ask her to draw a piece of paper from a hat, or some such similar vessel. On that piece of paper will be inscribed the name of the winner of the first Fuggled Christmas Giveaway, and soon to be proud (one hopes) owner of a Fuggled t-shirt, not too dissimilar from the one below.


Will it be your name being drawn out of the aforementioned vessel? Quite possibly, but only if you email me the answer to this eminently Googlable (should there be an e between the l and the a?) question:
  • Which pub was the first to sell Pilsner Urquell in Prague?
The email address is velkyal@fuggled.net, and please put Competition Entry in the subject line. The winner will be announced on Monday.

While on the subject of Fuggled merchandise - don't forget about the 2011 Fuggled Calendar for the beer lover in your life......

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Difference Does It Make?

Giving a tour of the Starr Hill brewery a couple of Sundays ago, I was asked the following question:
  • What do craft brewers do that industrial brewers don't?
Difficult question as I am sure you can imagine. I think at the time I answered that in terms of pure process, there is probably very little difference between an industrial brewers and craft brewers other than, of course, scale.

When you look at the websites of major industrial brewing companies, you do get the sense that the brand is of primary importance rather than the beer. That is an understandable reaction when you look at sites for companies such as AB-Inbev, who have a multiple of brands within their business, and in some cases they own only the brand, and leave the brewing up to someone else. But I am not talking here about business procedures, after all, only an idiot starts a company with no intention of making a living out of it, either that or someone with enough money not to care. I am talking about their methods of making beer.

Unless they are hiding something, AB-InBev claim that only 5 ingredients go into Budweiser. Again, unless they are hiding something, their process for making Budweiser looks exactly like the process used by every single craft brewer on the planet, apart from the beechwood aging that is. Now, you can argue until you are blue in the fact about the use of rice in beer, from my understanding it came about because American consumers in the mid 19th century wanted a paler, lighter bodied lager. The fact though remains that for the beer drinking masses of that time, Budweiser was what they wanted, just as for many a beer drinker today, a hoppy IPA is what they want. You could almost argue then that Budweiser, and pale lager in general, was the 19th century equivalent of the modern American IPA - all the rage among the beer drinking classes (by the way, that was everyone, not just "middle class tossers" to quote from this excellent post here).

Ah yes I hear some say, but craft beer uses traditional ingredients. The question then becomes, traditional to where? The use of rye is traditional in German brewing traditions, of course German brewing being so much more than Bavarian brewing, though sometimes you have to wonder (and yes I know that the enforcement of Reinheitsgebot was a pre-requisite for Bavaria joining the single German nation state in 1871). But using rye in British brewing? There isn't much of a tradition to go on there, though I am sure that if I am wrong I will be told soon enough. Tradition is such a nebulous concept as to be irrelevant, at what point do you decide something is traditional? You could argue that rice in American lager is traditional, so should craft brewers be making American lagers that use rice, rather than co-opting a tradition from Germany or Bohemia?

We won't get into the whole use of various extracts and adjuncts thing here, especially as so many of the Belgian beers beloved of the craft beer cognoscenti use hop extract and sugar.

So, the ingredients are by and large the same, the processes are same, so what differentiates craft brewers from industrial brewers? In terms of something objective, the only difference is the size and scale of operations, and even that is up for debate. Sometimes this whole craft vs industrial debate sounds like kids in the playground and when one kids says "my dad is bigger than yours" the craft kid replies "but my dad punches with artisan style".

Thinking this all through has given me a new appreciation for the likes of AB-InBev and SABMiller, because for all their failings, they do produce well-made, quality products. Sure, they may not be the kinds of beer I want to drink on a regular basis, but you would have to be exceptionally pig-headed to claim that Budweiser  is a poorly made product. They may not be putting the ingredients together in a way that I enjoy, but there are an awful lot of people out there who like what they are doing.

I guess for me, at the end of this pondering and pontificating, it is simple. I drink the beers that I enjoy, regardless of the producer. So I will still drink Guinness on occasion, Pilsner Urquell in the right circumstances and something from Michelob when the mood strikes. Sure, mostly I will drink what is labelled "craft beer", but is it necessary to be fanatical about it? I think not, it is, after all, just beer. The important thing is to enjoy what you are drinking, who are drinking it with and where you are drinking it.