Monday, 27 January 2020

A British brewer describes Belgian beers in the 1880s (part two)

We're back with that very unimpressed British brewer taking a look at Belgian beer.

He lays out his opinion of Belgian brewing very clearly and frankly in the opening sentence:

"THE beer produced in Belgium may be conveniently, and accurately, divided into two classes: that which is fit to drink, and that which is not. The former class is exclusively composed of low fermentation beer, manufactured upon a system, which is practically the same as that in vogue in Germany; and it should at once be stated that the Belgian lager-beer will compare very favourably with that obtainable in other continental countries. Low fermentation beer, however, constitutes but a small fraction of the total quantity of the malted beverage consumed; and the various concoctions, passing as beer, collectively recognized as the national beverage, are to state the case mildly, somewhat peculiar preparations. Lest it should be imagined that the brewer is altogether responsible for the quality and flavour of the many varieties of beer which can be tasted at the Antwerp Exhibition; it is but just to add that he brews to suite the public palate, and if we may judge by the amount of beer consumed, he is successful enough in this respect."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 12.

That's a pretty strong condemnation of the traditional Belgian beer styles. Not really unexpected, though. Belgian styles were too different and weird to be apprciated by someone used to English beers. This quote pretty much sums up his view: "the various concoctions, passing as beer". Ouch.

The author, on the other hand, clearly had a very high opinion of British beers:

"Belgium being one of the very few countries in which the high fermentation system still prevails, it is possible to institute a comparison between the brewing products of that country and our own, and I cannot but think that those gentlemen who recently visited us with the object of inspecting our leading establishments and sampling the best of our beer, must have returned not a little astonished at the superior quality of the article produced in England. It is possible, however, that the English working man has still to be educated up to a standard, which in many cases would certainly be a convenient one, but, to which he, at present, can scarcely be said to aspire; and it may possibly be that beer which is absolutely sour, scarcely ever bright, always devoid of condition, and with a flavour approximating to that of flat zoedone, may, to to those who have been duly initiated into its advantages, be deemed preferable to a glass of sparkling, mild, or bitter beer. However, this may be, it is certain that the Belgian beer corresponding to our ordinary running ale would, in this country, be scornfully returned both by the publican and his customer."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, pages 12 - 13.
If you're wodering, Zoedone was some sort of non-alcoholic drink. The comparison with it I don't think is meant to be a compliment. This is pretty damning: "our, scarcely ever bright, always devoid of condition". He makes it sound lovely, doesn't he?

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