Archive for May, 2015

Craft Beer and Indie Rock, a comparative study in three parts

Part 1: Definition

Don’t worry, this won’t be another futile attempt to change the definition of craft beer or to come up with a new and better one. It is one of those “it’s done, deal with it” things: you may not like it but things aren’t going to change anytime soon. The makers of craft beer coined the term and kept using it so who are we to suddenly demand that it changes. This discussion only takes place within a very small segment of the beer drinking public anyway. For the more casual drinker, ‘craft’ means that it is beer more to their liking, beer that is not lager or mass-produced beer. It is alternative to these. Here in the Netherlands Het Uiltje, Kompaan and most of all Jopen use the term everywhere and Peter van der Arend named his latest bar Craft & Draft. And who I am to go against these great men’s words. If Jopen suddenly decides that “you know, that Martijn guy from the Dutch Beer Pages makes a valid point, let’s change all our labels!” something is very wrong in this world.

I was working on some comparisons between indie rock music and craft beer. Both are alternative cultural exploits that have more similarities than you might think at first. I am sure I can make the comparison with tons of other art forms, but indie rock and beer are two of my areas of expertise, not pottery, jam making or the naming of hobos (if you got this cultural reference you are my new best friend and I will buy you a beer). The next two chapters will about the brewer / artist, and about the beer drinker / music lover and will be posted in the coming weeks.

But first, what does indie rock actually mean?

The term was already used in the 1950’s to describe the smaller record labels who fought to get their singles on the charts and sold. It was the only way to survive against the majors like RCA. In the late 70’s the term independent became more synonymous with do punk rock Do-It-Yourself mentality, something that has remained, even within craft brewing.

Just give me Indie Rock!

In the 1980’s this changed and the term became to mean the music they produced. This was the time that it meant something when you said you were an indie rock fan. The term changed from an economic one to a cultural description. If you met someone and said you liked indie rock, it meant the changes were that he or she liked the Smiths, R.E.M., Dinosaur JR and later Pavement, Built to Spill or the Strokes. But the chances were also that he or she liked the Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Underworld, and maybe even Arrested Development or other fringe hip-hop bands. Dinosaur JR and Built to Spill are good examples of bands who signed with major record labels without changing their music. The majors saw that now there was money to be made with these acts. In iTunes it is a category, even if the biggest record label in the world released it.

The definition of craft beer has changed too. No longer does it solely means artisanal made beer. More and more a lover of craft beer likes alternative beer, beer that is outside of the mainstream, the stuff that doesn’t promote FIFA or your national football championship. Does this mean small? Not immediately, but often they make and sell less than the ‘major’ breweries, just like Death Cab for Cutie will never sell the amount of albums Justin Moron or Rihanna sells. To say you like craft beer means you prefer IPA’s, Russian Stouts and saisons. It also means you love styles that are completely new or ancient like gose or gruit beers.

Both ‘Indie rock’ and ‘craft beer’ have been around for a while now. Some are questioning the right use of these terms. But it’s not the words that change, it’s what they mean, what they represent. From a pure technical dictionary definition it has taken on new meaning, a meaning that now represents a culture and an art form.

So now that we got that out of the way, stay tuned the coming weeks for the other parts in the series where I look at other comparisons.

5 beers with…. Marty Nachel

In 2006 my father turned 50. As a present I gave him a big box filled with all kinds of bottles of beer. I also added the book Beer for Dummies and made sure that the styles in the box were mentioned in the book. Before I closed the box however I read the book myself. 10 years ago I knew a little, but was more a Dummy than I am now. Two years ago while at his deathbed I looked into a bookcase and saw the book again. I never knew if he really finished the book, but I know he looked some things up, which is how the book was intended to be used anyway.

Earlier this year I came across the book again. My knowledge of beer has expanded greatly but I wanted to reread the book again. What I noticed is that this wasn’t exactly the same book as I read then, and this turned out to be right.

So I went looking for the author of the book, Marty Nachel, and asked him 5 questions. I also asked him to name 5 desert-island-beers. He is the first guest in my hopefully long-lasting series: 5 Beers with…

1.   You wrote Beer for Dummies. The First edition was from 1996, we are now almost twenty years later and I guess you have written new editions. Is the latest one still comparable to the first with all the changes that happened?

“When I was negotiating the 2nd edition with my publisher, I had to guarantee that I would produce 25% all-new material, as well as update all the material from the previous edition.

There is one section of the new edition of Beer For Dummies that is almost all new material.  In it, I cover topics such as Real Ale (cask ale from the UK), Barrel-aging Beer, “Extreme” Beer (high alcohol beer and beer with odd ingredients), and Organic, Gluten-free and Kosher beer.  I hadn’t covered any of these before.”

2.    Of all the innovations in beer the last decades, which two do you like the most?

“I’m a big fan of wood-aged beers.  I like all the various flavors that are imparted by the previous alcohol in the barrel (bourbon, wine, rum, tequila, etc.)

I also like the re-introduction of old and sometimes forgotten styles, such as Gose, Gratzer, Kottbusser, etc.  Even if I don’t care for the taste of the beer style, I appreciate the fact that they revived it.”

Beer pairing: Ballast Point Sculpin’ IPA

3.    And which two you could have done without?

“I’m really not a fan of some of the flavors they are introducing with the use of a “Randall”, especially if they involve candy.

Although I like the concept of collaboration between brewers, I think it’s being done so much here in the U.S., that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

Beer Pairing: Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

4.    You also wrote Homebrewing for Dummies. Which of the two books gets you the most response?

“I get more response from Homebrewing for Dummies.  The most rabid and passionate beer fans tend to be homebrewers, so that’s where most of the attention comes from.”

Beer Pairing: Rodenbach Grand Cru

5.    What do you know about the emerging Dutch craft beer scene? Do you have any favorite brewers/beers already?

“I regret to say that I know very little about the Dutch craft beer scene.  Honestly, right now I have trouble keeping up with what is going on in the Chicago area (where I live), much less what is going on across the U.S.  Foreign beer markets are exactly that- foreign.  Until the beers produced elsewhere show up on my retailer’s shelves or on my local publican’s taps, I’m mostly unfamiliar with them.”

Beer Pairing: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

So brewers of Holland, you know what to do, get your beer to the beautiful city of Chicago!

Utrecht Beerbrewersfestival 2015

With all the new breweries and contract brewers starting in Amsterdam in the last two years you would almost think that the center of Dutch Craft beer has shifted to the capital. I also spent more time writing about that scene than the one in Utrecht. But does this mean that nothing happened in Utrecht? Hell no! The beer scene in Utrecht is still growing still and as vibrant as ever. 20 brewers from the province were present at this year’s Utrecht Brewers Festival, and if they have shown anything it is that the quality of the local beer is still rising on the already strong foundations laid by the likes of Maximus, Duits & Lauret, Eem, Rooie Dop and VandeStreek. It is a festival that is also loved by the brewers. Smaller breweries (in manpower) like Rooie Dop and Duits & Lauret now pick and choose what festivals they appear on, and this one is always on their calendars.

DSC00882Too popular, too small?

This was the festival’s 5thedition, and it could well be the last time on this location as mentioned in an earlier article. The increasing interest in craft beer (I am just going to continue using this term for now, the whole discussion bores me to death, if Jopen, Uiltje, Kompaan and Craft & Draft use it who I am to advocate something else) has logically led to an increase in interest in festivals like this. It has happened a few times already this year that festivals were full, that people had to wait for over an hour to get in or that the doors were closed. Because this festival was held on a public terrain this was not possible, though volunteers were at the entrance telling people that there were no more glasses. The limit was at 1600 glasses, a number that was reached around 14:30 / 15:00. The organizers did make it very clear on social media that if you wanted a glass, you had to show up early. I would have liked giving the glass back to the organizers who could then sell it again.

It is one of the byproducts of the hype surrounding craft beer. The great locations tend to be small, and you to be on time. The festivals in Enschede, Groningen and Den Haag have been doing what is necessary in the coming years: the pre-sale of tickets, multi-day events or bigger venues, and hopefully not in some exhibition hall.

DSC00895New breweries

It was most crowded in front of the stands of the newer breweries like Kromme Haring, SpierBier and Stapzwan. The informed beer drinker know that their beers weren’t available nationwide yet and for many of them, this was the first time at a beer festival. The responses were positive, with Richard of SpierBier telling me that the best thing to happen were the people who tried one beer, and then came back to try the other one on hand.


It also is a good sign that the jury voted for Kromme Haring’s Smokey the Barracuda as most appreciated beer in Utrecht, with my personal favorite Stapzwan getting the bronze. Kromme Haring (yes, that means crooked herring) was the most exciting because they also brought a fantastic raspberry lacto brett brew, sans hops. I started out with Stapzwan’s Porter and all the beers after that were good, but never reached the great porter flavors that touched my tongue shortly after noon.

Unlike their brethren in Amsterdam, the Utrecht brewers tend to be more brewers than entrepreneurs, more craft if you will. This means that they take more care in their beer, and in the slew of IPA’s that were released last year it is a breath of fresh air. If you ever thought Utrecht has lost its crown, it regained the title as most exciting province for Dutch craft beer.