Friday, April 15, 2011

Traditional Beer Friday

Back when I was studying to be a minister of religion, I took New Testament Greek. I didn't have to, I wanted to. I wasn't very good at it, only just passing the first end of term test and deciding to sack it in favour of ethics and the purchase of a good concordance with Greek and Hebrew lexicons (there was no way on earth I was ever going to take Hebrew). Despite my abject failure at Greek, though in later life a knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet greatly helped when I had to learn some Russian while living in Minsk, there was one word which, for reasons unknown, lodged itself in my cranium, paradosis. Paradosis is generally translated as "tradition" though a more thorough explanation of the term would be "the things that are handed from generation to generation".

When it comes to beer, tradition is a word that we hear and see a lot. Whether talking about "traditional ingredients", "traditional brewing methods" or "traditional serving methods", there seems to be a part of beer that seeks to hark back to times past. The problem with such backward harking is deciding where the tradition starts and whether the development of said tradition is a good thing or a bad thing. The whole traditional IPA debate comes to mind, see Ron's blog for more on that subject.

Of course there are some breweries that seem intent on giving tradition a swift kick in the head, while others are so traditional that they almost appear quaint. Generally speaking I like drinking beers from the latter breweries than the former. That's not to say that a uber-hopped bourbon barrel aged beer isn't a tasty drop from time to time, but it is best just that way, from time to time. I couldn't imagine sitting in the pub polishing off many imperial pints of such beers. Perhaps that makes me a faux beer geek, but if proving your geekiness means drinking hopped up paint stripper, then I am perfectly happy not being a beer geek.

This whole train of thought came about after reading more about the Budvar brewery in the Czech Republic. When I moved to the Prague, back in the 20th century, I already knew that I liked Budvar - I had the pleasure several times in the All Bar One pub in Birmingham. I have never actually done a side by side tasting of Budvar and Pilsner Urquell (more's the pity) but they are very distinctive beers and most people prefer one to the other. Given the choice of a lifetime drinking either only Budvar or Pilsner Urquell (not exactly a hardship, I know), I would drink Budvar. One thing that impressed me about Budvar, while I was reading, was that it takes 102 days for a batch to go from kettle to tap. That's 12 days fermentation and 90 days in the lagering tanks before packaging, more than 3 months for each batch. I find that remarkable, also damned drinkable.

Innovation and new flavours are all well and good, but I have a soft spot for a brewery that considers innovation as brewing a dark lager, more than 100 years after the first Czech dark lagers went from being warm fermented to cold fermented. I also have great respect for the former head brewer at Budvar, Mr Tolar, who refused to bow to the demands of the economists of the Communist regime to make his beer quicker (funny how regardless of political system it is always the economists and lawyers that end up running the show).  In the flood of fancy hops, bourbon barrels and imperialised beers, let's not lose sight of the classic beers that have stood the test of time.


  1. Classical Hebrew's a doddle: 800 words, two tenses, bish-bash-bosh, where's me First?

    What other throwback beers are there like Budvar? An awful lot of the classic-brand international beers have existed in their current form for well under 50 years.

  2. i agree with what youre tryin to put accross in this regarding traditional beer although ill rarely have lagers. But whos to say what counts as traditional, classic etc. Barel aging has been around for years, perhaps without brewers knowing it admitadly but i just find its a very hazy subject to class some beers as new and others old.

  3. Scott,

    That's why I am happy to leave that particular part of the discussion to Ron.

  4. I have a Hebrew name. Reuben means "Behold a Son" so I am fairly well up on my Hebrew obviously.

    Some beer Traditions are just plain marketing these days. Such as the Guinness two part pour which BeerNut once explained to me.


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