Saturday, 18 August 2007


I underwent an epiphany while in Franconia.

The beers that I liked the best were the simplest. Like Frau Hofmann's Export. Just Vienna malt anf Hallertuer hop pellets. Will's Dunkles. Beers with a recipe that you could scribble on the back of a fag packet. There was an honesty to these beers.

Earlier this week I saw a programme about Greek cooking. Most dishes only use two or three ingredients. Real peasant cooking, simple but packed with flavour. Franconian brewing is very much in that tradition. Great raw materials, passion and love. Yes, love. Every brewer spoke of their beer as of their child.

Beer runs deep in Franconia. A brewery is part of the life of most villages. The connection villagers have to their local beer, we cannot hope to comprehend. It's something far more profound than mere brand loyalty. The brewer is like a member of the family.

I've seen enthusiastic brewers before. But the emotional, almost spiriual attachment of Franconian brewers to their beer is of a different magnitude.

What are microbreweries elsewhere up to? Take a look at the list of ingredients. How many types of malt are in them? How many varieties of hop? Is it all necessary? How much impact do some of the ingredients have on the taste of the finished product? Why use a diferent variety of yeast for every beer?

A lot of microbrewed beer now seems frivolous to me. Like pretentious nouvelle cuisine. too complicated for its own good.

More than 3 types of malt in a beer and they're having a laaarf. Three's all they needed to make Courage Russian Stout, the most complex beer I've ever tasted by several streets.

Honest beer is what I want. Beer that can look me straight in the eye and not flinch. Beer with heart. Beer that's like an old friend. Beer you can sit and drink by the pint in a pub with your mates.

Take a look at the beer in your glass. What is it? Honest, or a wee bit pretentious?


Anonymous said...

Some wise words there Ron you can't beat a pint or two of simple well crafted beer. Incidentally the beer in my glass is good honest English bitter, made with my own fair hands. I don't think my limited skills as a brewer affords me the opportunity to make pretentious beer!

Lew Bryson said...

A very experienced small brewer here in America, Karl Ockert, believes in what he calls the 3-2-1 theory of beer formulation. If there are more than 3 malts, 2 hops, and 1 yeast strain in a beer, you're just showing off: they're not really adding anything.

There are, I believe, exceptions to this, but there are far fewer exceptions, I believe, than there are violations.

A friend called me three days ago to propose a trip to the 2008 Oktoberfest, and whether or not we eventually do go, I find that my mind is now much occupied by thoughts of sitting in the Augustinerkeller in the autumn sunlight, wurst on the plate and Edelstoff in the mass, and God in his heaven. Sometimes the very best is the simplest.

Ron Pattinson said...

Lew, I think Karl has got it right.

Having looked at plenty of historical recipes, most are pretty damn simple. I use Courage Russian Stout as my guide - if they can make the most complex beer in the world with just 3 malts, who needs more?

Edelstoff - what a great drinking beer that is. Think of me when you're in the Augustinerkeller.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Brilliant. I doubt there has been - or will be - a better paragraph written about beer this yyear:

Honest beer is what I want. Beer that can look me straight in the eye and not flinch. Beer with heart. Beer that's like an old friend. Beer you can sit and drink by the pint in a pub with your mates.

I'm jealous.

I agree on the "simple is good" front, disagree that complicated has to be pretentious.

Unknown said...

And if I like the results of the multiple malt creations I'm probably a jackass.

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that simple makes for great beer. Just like simple makes for great websites, car interior design, construction and many other things.

But, I don't necessarily agree that some of these experiments (which is what they are) are pretentious. If anything they are the opposite as they represent that punk rock attitude of fucking with things, that might not need fucking with.

Stonch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stonch said...

I agree with what Ron's written, indeed I travelled through Franconia with him and took the same thoughts away with me.

As Ron says in his article - a simple list of ingredients can produce a complex beer.

Anonymous said...

Recently I came to this realization as well. Over the past couple years, I've been through the craft beer ringer and have battered my mouth with an overdose of hops, alcohol and "extreme" posturing. Some of it was interesting, but most of it wasn't very satisfying or truly drinkable. Over the past few months, I've been doing a thing where I always have at least one standard in my refrigerator. A beer that may be considered staid by the Beer Advocate crowd, but one that I find enjoyable(for the past few weeks that beer has been New Glarus' Home Town Blonde - a really beautiful Pilsener). You really get to know a beer this way and in the end the experience is much more rich and lasting. At least that's how it works for me. Thanks, I really enjoy your page!

BuckSpin said...

I've found the same in cooking, baking, etc. that less is more. A baker's art is found in a simple buttermilk biscuit or a humble cake donut. No where to hide. Same with beer.

I've had a few beers that were so seductive in their simplistic appeal, only giving up little peeks & glimpses, never fully revealing themselves, had me yearning for more, that I know refer to them as "burlesque beers". They are few & far between.

Terry said...

Alas, I've never drunk in Franconia (the nearest I've got in Baden-Wurtemburg, where I still remember a fine unfiltered lager drunk in pottery steins in the Ratskeller in Pforzheim) but I agree with you completely about Greek food, Ron, having just had another fortnight sampling it - Greek restaurants almost exclusively feature freshly sourced local ingredients (you can often see, in the countryside, the aubergines, basil and tomatoes that will be in tomorrow's dish growing around the side of the restaurant)cooked that day but someone who was up at 6am or earlier getting it all ready, and it's cooked with no conception of mucking it about, just presenting it the way it;'s been done for generations. The result is that I can recall just one disapointing meal in Greece in about 50, which is a vastly better hit rate than I remember anywhere else ...

Anonymous said...

Ah, is this the same Ron Pattinson who wrote "why the Reinheitsgebot is a load of old bollocks?"

A couple of weeks in Franconia was a fantastic experience, but also made us crave some experimental Belgian or American brews by the end. A nice long weekend in Brussels is great for trying all sorts of combinations of beer, but you tend to want a nice English bitter after that.

Is Cantillon complete simplicity or utter pretentiousness?

Ron Pattinson said...

Boak, that was another Ron Pattinson who wrote about the Reinheitsgebot being bollocks.

After returning from Franconia, I craved Franconian beer. I still do. I had a fix in Wildeman today, but it was more like methedone than full-strength smack. I'm suffering Dunkles withdrawal.

You have to ask me what Cantillon is? The ultimate peasant beer.

BTW, I find Ciney crap. At the real nasty end of Belgian Abbey beers. Then again, I don't like Chimay much either.

What I miss is a good Mild. But that's scarcely more available in the UK than here.