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Sunday, October 21, 2007


A mini-theme I've been exploring is touched on in the first chapter of Beer and Philosophy--authenticity of locally-brewed beer. My views are more colloquial and lacking the form of a discipline, but it turns out--more or less in line when we bring in the philosophers. I'll let Dale Jacquette take it from here.

The mere presence of a local beer doesn't necessarily make it authentic.
[T]he above-mentioned beers [Sakara Gold and Efes] are currently produced under the direction of a Dutch or German rather than Egyptian or Turkish Braumeister. These beers are made and sold in Egypt and Turkey; fair enough, but in a certain sense they might as well be made in Hanover or Eindhoven.
This seems totally sound. Put another way, in America we actually say that Indian food (for example) is authentic if the chef is Indian and cooks in a traditional Indian style. We deduct points for authenticity if the cook is Texan or the food made in a way that caters to American tastes. So having established how authenticity travels, we turn to the question of how it emerges. Jacquette--who as we will see in a moment isn't the greatest judge of beer--offers a pretty satisfying framework:
The only way for there to be an authentic Egyptian or Turkish beer is for an Egyptian or Turkish brewer to produce a kind of beer that specifically satisfies native Egyptian or Turkish tastes.... There can only be an authentic Egyptian or Turkish beer, cross-culturally influenced by German tradition, as historically it must be, if Egyptian or Turkish brewers make beer that appeals to a distinctive trend in taste preferences among Egyptian and Turkish beer drinkers.
Whatever we consider to be authentic assumes a level of perfection in an indigenous context that is expressive of aesthetic values as distinctive, original, or characteristic rather than imitative, derivative, or contrived.
By these standards--with which I agree--pockets of authenticity have clearly developed in the US--in New England, the Midwest, and the West Coast. (Colorado, though an avid brewing state, seems to fail the standard--the beer isn't brewed by Germans, but it hews to their standard and evinces no indigenous Colorado-ness.) But Jacquette doesn't agree: "We can only hope that our children and grandchildren will someday inherit a better world of American beers that they will surely deserve."

He also offers observations that will earn him no credibility among the alenocenti:
  • "I may not like Belgian kriek beers--indeed, I personally loathe them--"
  • "I must admit in my own case that while I am prepared to judge [the UK's real beer movement] as authentic, I do not find it particularly pleasurable when compared with the best Dutch and German product."
  • "For all its virtues, I nevertheless personally find UK real beer generally too bitter, usually excessively hopped ... and, above all, in the rightly motivated real beer commitment to serving beer at room temperature, flat and without the benefit of artificial cooling."
Okay, first of all, best Dutch beer? Secondly, excessively hopped and too bitter--your distinction? And thirdly, room temperature? Where you been drinkin' your real ale, buddy?

Well, never mind; your philosophy is good, Dale. Leave the beer to us.


  1. Colorado, though an avid brewing state, seems to fail the standard--the beer isn't brewed by Germans, but it hews to their standard and evinces no indigenous Colorado-ness.)

    Jeff, I don't mean to take this out of context, and I'm not prepared to comment on the book until I digest the whole thing (parts I like, and parts I don't), but . . .

    I don't see Colorado craft drinkers hewing to German standards and I don't know what indigenous Colorado-ness should be.

    But I think the beers of New Belgium certainly are not derivative, nearby Coopersmith's makes and excellent green chile beer, Odell's (we haven't even left Fort Collins) beers are brewed with a British sense of balance.

    Perhaps these beers have not evolved because of the water (though Left Hand values the soft snowcap runoff) or crops grown in the region but because of a culture of (not perfect, but i"m going for brief) outdoor/adventure/environmental awareness.

  2. Well, I was following Jacquette's meme--not that all Colorado beer is brewed in the German style, but that almost none of it deviates from the country of origin stylistically. And in some cases, doesn't meet the standard, as is my criticism of New Belgium (which does actually have a Belgian brewer--which further reinforces the argument that it's not indigenous). What do Coloradans, as a state of drinkers, demand from brewers? What's the indigenous Colorado style?

    I think I could make the argument for New England and Midwest tastes (and obviously this blog exists because there's a Northwest taste), but I can't see anything distinct coming from Colorado. They tend to take a standard and brew it exactly to the original specs, or even soften it. The exceptions (Boulder Brewing, Great Divide) don't constitute the emergence of a regional style, but are notable for being anomalous.

    Colorado has a strong market, and mine isn't a popular view. I'm prepared to change my mind, and definitely prepared to cheer the arrival of an indigenous Colorado style, but someone's going to have to make the argument first.

  3. I should say, too, that my criticism was in the context of Jacquette's frame for what "authentic" beer is.

  4. I'll re-read his essay tonight. My problem may be only with his definition.

  5. As promised I've re-read that chapter and my beef would be with how he limits authenticity.

    Not totally, but it seems he does not account for beer and societies evolving. He sets the rules for what a Near Eastern beer would need to be like to be authentic, and I think the people who live there should.

    And I'm not sure what Colorado brewers could do. Or why I feel an urge to defend them (same time zone, I guess).

    I am curious though what you think the establish Midwest tastes are.

  6. I know of one Colorado element that sets them apart for me - really hard water. Syracuse NY beers, by comparison, tend to be from very soft water due to the salt seams under the City. If New England beers, defined as much by the Ringwood yeast as anything, are accordngly distinctly authentic, surely water quality is as worthy a characteristic.

    A Good Beer Blog

  7. I know of one Colorado element that sets them apart for me - really hard water.

    Huh? Left Hand? New Belgium?

    A lot of breweries are getting water from streams fed by snow runoff.