Friday, 11 December 2009

More rubbish from the BA

Where do you start with something like this?

This is from the new site from the US "Brewers' Association" homebrew club.

We learn in the introduction:

"Rhine Valley Ales: This pair of crisp, everyday session beers attests to the diversity and ancient brewing traditions of Northern Germany. They are fermented warm, then cold-conditioned, instilling qualities of both ales and lagers. Kölsch is the traditional golden ale from Cologne, Germany (Köln). It's a well-balanced beer with delicate, fruity aromas, clean, soft maltiness and subtle hoppinness. Düsseldorfer Altbier translates to, "the old beer from Düsseldorf," and is the oldest beer style still brewed in Germany. Alt is a copper–colored beer with an assertive hop nose and just enough malt to provide balance. It's fermented with ale yeast which contributes a subtle fruitiness."

Of course, Kölsch and Alt are not ales as they have nothing to do with the British ale tradition. It's a bit odd to pay tribute to "the diversity and ancient brewing traditions of Northern Germany" and then refer to them by the name of a different tradition. I'll call Charlie by the name of Sam in future and see how he likes that. Moreover, Kölsch certainly isn't ancient, having been introduced by the Sünner brewery in Kalk in the twentieth century.

But the real howler are the suggested glasses pictured above. Alt in a nonic pint glass? Kölsch in a flute? Kölsch is quite possibly the only kind of beer in the world where the shape of the glass is explicitly defined – it's set out in the Kölsch-Konvention, the agreement between most of the Kölsch brewers — and it's not a flute. It is always, always served in a Kölner Stange, a tall, elegant and fragile 20cl cylindrical glass. Similarly, Alt is served in an Altbier glass, also cylindrical but shorter and wider. Oh, I forgot, they think it's an ale, so it must be fine to drink it from the same glass as English bitter, yeah?

Where do they get this stuff?


  1. You know what the worst of that is? These people aren't "just" bloggers, (meaning some dude writing in his free time about something he likes but probably doesn't know too much about), they are supposed to be educating people.

  2. The Americans have a curious love for the Nonik, despite it being the ugliest receptacle from which to drink beer in the history of brewing: I think they believe that because it's associated with the British pub it must therefore be 'cool'. As for calling anything brewed with top-fermenting yeast 'ale', regardless of where it'sm from, perhaps if we promised to keep hitting them with heavy pieces of wood until they stopped insisting on doing this, they might get the message.

  3. Hey, I love the Nonik. Until someone revives the ten-sided mug, it's a Nonik for me.

    I think you could be right about the pub romanticising it. On another page there's a mention of drinking session ales "with the mates in the pub." I can't help thinking of Dick van Dyke when I read that.

  4. I look at this site and see a consumer-facing website that's intended for the beer newbie, not the hard-core beer geeks like you and I. So I'll have to forgive them for making references to glasses that I can buy for cheap that approximate the shape of Kolsch and Alt stanges rather than order a stange direct from Koln or Dusseldorf.

    To the American, top-fermenting yeast is a synonym of ale yeast. That's just the way it is with us. Cry about it all you like, but that's how they label that kind of yeast in American homebrew stores and how American brewers themselves describe top-fermenting yeast. Again, look at it from the beer newb standpoint and maybe you can forgive the BA a tad like I have.

  5. But Rick - why not call it "warm fermenting yeast"? Which is more accurate that "top-fermenting" anyway, since both sorts of yeast actually ferment in the middle.

  6. While Zythophile is correct, I'm happy to stick with "top-fermenting", which I like because it's neatly analogous to the French haute fermentation, Dutch hoge gisting and the German obergärig.

    Rick, I think it's possible to write an accessible article that doesn't misrepresent a foreign culture. I have to disagree -- the glasses suggested do not even begin to approximate Kölsch or Alt glasses, and the reader is given no indication that people in the Rhineland don't really drink their beer out of flutes and nonik pints.

    (Incidentally I had a quick look and found at least one company selling Stange glasses to the US at less than $13 a dozen ...)

    I am aware that US homebrewers have (unfortunately in my view) learned to divide the world simplistically into ale and lager, something I've written about here:

    This is looking at a cultural differentation from a mycological perspective -- whereas in Europe, "ale" is reserved for the beers that are called as such by the people who actually brew and drink them. I don't think it's unreasonable to respect that and to recognize there are many traditions of top-fermenting beer, and they're not all ales.

    Suppose a German came to the US and started describing all the beers he encountered in terms of Pils or Weizen. That would be disrespectful to the US brewing culture, and I also don't believe he'd really be able to gain a full understanding of US beer.

    The page on British beer suffers from precisely this sort of mindset. It's not so much the errors, it's the whole attitude -- the author doesn't seem to me to have understood how British brewers and drinkers think about beer and how they classify it.

  7. Not to mention that there's also a box on the front page reading "Choose the right glass". When I see that, I expect to be told what the right glass actually is, not what the authors estimate that I might be able to find most easily in my town.

  8. When you live in a country where one of the craft brewers describes their second most popular brew as being an "Irish Red Ale" which is "brewed in the tradition of the great English ales" then you really have to despair at times.