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Oakes Weekly - July 10th, 2003
Good Beer From Giant Brewers
July 10, 2003
Written by Oakes
<P>Though it was not officially recognized, there was an unofficial Babblefest at the Ratebeer Summer Party. JDR (TAR here), hey_kevin, and myself were joined by ToddA, brewer at Flossmoor. Todd arrived at the Claridge a litte late, but bearing some serious peacemakers. As stunning as the collection of beers the rest of Ratebeer supplied, Todd's offerings were very much in the Babblebelt vein - a handful of rare lambics most of us had never seen - Lou Pepe Framboise & Kriek, Cantillon Loerik, De Cam Gueuze, and Belle Vue Selection Lambic Gueuze. I'd read one of Joris' ratings on the latter a few weeks earlier and wondered about his judgment. I reckoned it might be good, but in more of a Timmermans sort of way than it a serious lambic geek sort of way. But he gave it a very high score. Well, when I got a chance to try it, I ended up giving it an even higher score.
<P>I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. While the stuff coming out of Belle-Vue these days does not resemble anything other than cough syrup or alcopop, it still must be based on lambic in order to wear that label. Furthermore, the Belle Vue Brewery in Molenbeek is but a stone's throw from Cantillon in Anderlecht. It might be a fifteen minute walk all told, just the other side of the Senne. So you're looking at pretty much the same environment for those wild yeasts.
<P>When I added it all up, Belle Vue Sélection Lambic was the best beer from a large macrobrewer I'd ever had. But it certainly wasn't the only good one. So I took a look. And something jumped out. None of the really good macrobrews in this world hail from North America. Seriously, consider the facts:
<P>Canada - The best Interbrew/Labatt's beer is probably Kootenay Black Lager, a lightish schwarzbier from the Kokanee brewery in BC. Keith's Celebration Ale was actually drinkable, but that's it. Molson's attempts at bockbier have failed time and again. The best they ever did was a stylistically spot-on Cream Ale a few years back. Needless to say, they don't make it anymore. The Molson products with the best reputation are really hard to find (Club Ale, and the Newfie brews), so the best I've had are the two Dave's beers - Massive Irish and Scotch Ale. Both are competent, but won't light the world on fire.
<P>Moosehead's best was the appley-tasting off batch of Mariner Ale, or the accidentally overhopped batches of Moosehead, Alpine, or Ten Penny that they occasionally pawned off on unsuspecting students because they couldn't put it into general distribution (yeah, I was complaining about free overhopped Moosehead). Sleeman has inherited quality beers like Seigneuriale Reserve and Upper Canada Rebellion...the former is not produced much if at all and the latter stands as the best macrobrew in Canada today. Lakeport makes nothing drinkable since they culled McGinty's Crew and Northern's best is the vaguely malty Edelbrau, which ranks somewhere in the 700-range of the 1000 Canadian brews I've had to date. Pacific Western has a similar product in Natureland Organic Lager, while Great Western hasn't got anything worth drinking.
<P>In the US, things are just as bad. A-B had a hoppy APA a while back, and all the big guys have dabbled in specialty brews. Blue Moon White might be the king of the big brewers right now for quality. Sam Adams used to make interesting brews, but now the Lager is the best thing going over there, and probably wins the North American crown. Their ultra-strong brews are made on a very limited scale so you can't really call them macrobrews. Dixie Blackened Voodoo and Henry's are also in there, but overall it's even worse than the Canadian scene. In Mexico, maybe Noche Buena is worth drinking and that's about it.
<P>In the rest of the world, however, you have a different story. Hoppy pilsners are made and marketed on a grand scale - Jever, Bitburger, Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar to name a few. Strong stouts and porters are made damn near everywhere - Lion Stout in Sri Lanka, Nigerian Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, Limfjords Porter in Denmark, Zywiec Porter in Poland, Koff Porter in Finland...all macrobrews, all wonderful. Though it hasn't been made in a while, Courage Imperial Russian Stout is a macrobrew ever microbrewers have trouble emulating. Duvel and Chimay are made to a large scale in Belgium. The Falcon brewery in Sweden made in the mid-90's a stunning dunkel called Gammelbrygd. In many countries, there is at least one drinkable macro - from Sibirskoye Korona in Russia to Castle Milk Stout in South Africa, the rest of the world is kicking our North American asses in this department.
<P>I keep hearing about how North American macrobrewers have talent. I'm sure there is some truth to this - Michael Hancock left Molson to create the world's best weizenbier. But so often these breweries can't even produce a quality one-off or special edition. The genii at work come up with Michelob Ultra or Rickard's Honey Brown rather than anything with substance. So I'll put it forth like this - big brewers of North America - your counterparts around the world are making you look like imbeciles. If you really can brew, prove it. Make me some homebrew that shows your talents. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for my address. Make me a Belle Vue Sélection Lambic.
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...big brewers of North America - your counterparts around the world are making you look like imbeciles. If you really can brew, prove it...
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