As I sit here writing this post – which is primarily a look back at the recent European Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference it strikes me that this in fact the 100th post on the IrishBeerSnob.com blog. (100 might be a bit of a stretch as some are of our podcast episodes) but nonetheless. It is a significant milestone we have achieved here. It’s quite fitting we are now writing about our experiences.
Those of you that follow us on Twitter or who are friends with us on Facebook / Instagram etc will have seen that we were in Europe before the conference. We started off in the beautiful port city of Bordeaux in South West France, and met some great people – this will be covered in another post. We then stopped in Paris for a whistle stop tour less than 48 Hrs in length, but this didn’t stop us discovering some great parts of the Parisienne beer scene.
This brings us nicely onto our visit to Brussels. I’m embarrassed to say this is my first visit to Brussels, not to Belgium, I know we stopped somewhere in Belgium on our way to Germany on a school tour when I was a teen. It was fitting that we were going to one of the most famous beer producing countries, even though they only produce 1% of the worlds beer, it’s a place steeped in tradition, pride and history.
Ever since the itinerary for EBBC was published we’ve been really excited to see what Belgium has to offer. We are quite fortunate in Ireland we get a lot of really great Belgian beer however I was excited to try more of what Belgium has to offer, both from the long established brewers, and the new up and coming breed that are emerging in Belgium.
We arrived, and registered. Once the formalities were completed we had a lovely lunch of local dishes with a range of diverse beers. Among the beers we tried was Dry Hopped Saison by Dupont which was brought to another level with the dry hopping. The hop used was Minstrel. However one that absolutely blew me away was the Timmermans Oude Geuze, a delightfully tart beer which served as a wonderful palate cleanser in between courses. However there was one beer that really challenged my perceptions and that was the Liefman’s Kriek Brut, for those who don’t know this is a mixed fermentation partial spontaneous and partial re-fermentation in the bottle. They put 13kg of Cherries in for maturation per hectolitre. The guys from Liefmans even went a step further which included a chocolate covered cherry and a great blue cheese for matching.
We then settled in for a packed afternoon agenda which included a press conference from the Belgian Family Brewers which gave us a very broad outline as to why they set up and what they hope to achieve – I’m going to discuss this in a later blog post. Which all lead up to the Live Beer Blogging, which saw us trying 12 beers from 12 different brewers in 1 hour. All the while blogging while trying. You can see my post on this here which i’ll fix up and add more notes to. Just imagine speed dating with beer. Next time, I might just do this on Instagram or Twitter!
Following swiftly on from the Live blogging, was dinner in the beautiful Belga Queen which used to be a bank. It’s also home to the swankiest bathrooms i’ve ever seen. Here we were treated to more great hospitality and beers. One that I was particularly impressed with was the Mikkeller / Lindeman’s Spontanbasil collaboration. We finished off the evening in Delerium Cafe, however after a long day we moved on to the bar in the Hotel Metropole and a couple of beers on the terrace on a lovely summer’s evening.
|Janice and I with Aidan Sweeney of Brewsinternational.com – Photo Courtesy of Aidan Sweeney|
Day 2 was a similarly busy day – with a packed agenda again. Which undoubtedly contained the most hotly debated topic simply entitled “Beer Marketing – How does beer blogging and writing fit in to the broader subject of beer marketing?” Now I must confess I expected fireworks, as when I was chatting to Johnny of Brewdog in advance I got the impression that Jean had something to say. However we were led off by Sofie Vanrafelghem of Sofies World who is railing against gender marketing and is leading events to encourage women to try beer, especially those that say they don’t like beer! We also heard of the ridiculous restraints that Tom Young of Nogne has to deal with when they market their beers in Norway. Johnny Moran of Brewdog told us how Brewdog view bloggers as vital in spreading their company’s message of telling people about great beer.
“Our strategy is to reduce the distance between the people who make our beer and the people who drink it” – @BrewDogJohnny #EBBC15
— Andy Parker (@tabamatu) August 29, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsNow the stage was set. You knew it was going to be interesting when Jean started with the dictionary definition of a brewer, and brewery. He then proceeded to rail against Mikkeller, and all gypsy brewers, going as far as describing these as Fake Brewers. Now, i think at this stage Jean had maybe misjudged his audience or even used a bad example. I don’t think his ire was specifically aimed at Mikkeller but more the private label operators who are setting up in Belgium who may brew the same beer for three companies and it’s not specifically identified where it’s brewed etc. This isn’t a uniquely Belgian problem.
However when using Mikkeller as his example, who states where his beer is made on each bottle, was a little confusing. Ultimately the point he was trying to make was that Bloggers in particular are needed to state the truth – the truth isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t think bloggers would criticise someone like Mikkeller for being a gypsy brewer, as he’s always been upfront with that, but we do and often criticise some of the beer he produces. Thankfully this passed off without more than a difference of opinion, but it was an interesting insight into how some folks view Gypsy Brewers.
I was privileged to be one of the Bloggers who got to give a five minute report on a subject of their choosing. Given the fledgling Irish Beer Scene, I spoke about this however it was really informative listening to Matt Curtis of Total Ales who gave a really good session on improving your photography on your blog, and importantly told us that you can achieve good results using your smart phone, just be sure to use natural sunlight and editing software. Also of particular interest was Jeffrey Michael the Biking Brewer who had cycled half ways around Europe to be with us! Also The Baron Ormskirk told us how it was possible to blog and produce audio for very little out lay.
This and the next session The Science of Sour Beers – Presented by Petrus were my two favourite events. We got to try the main beers in the sour range by Brouwerij De Brabandere. The oud bruin, the aged red, and we also got to try the mother beer, the aged pale. Which as part of the history of this beer, credit has to be given to the late Michael Jackson who persuaded the brewery to unleash the mother beer on the public. But the fun didn’t stop there – we were encouraged to make our own blend of the beers as after all everyone’s palettes are different. Personally I loved the 100% Aged Pale, but give it a drop of the aged red and it was a different beast altogether. To that end I hope that they get a distributor here in Ireland – and i’ll start pestering the ones I know now!
We finished off with a monster meal courtesy of Pilsner Urquell where we were presented with a customised Beer Mug and the opportunity to pour our own pints of Pilsner Urquell which was being served from the tank which was shipped in the previous day.
All in all we had a great time, was it perfect no, but it’s very hard to put something this big on with some things not being 100% but in the main it was a very positive experience. I certainly took a lot from it. We’ve so much to write about over the coming weeks and months we’ll revisit our visits to Bruges and Leuven also. Also – where else would you get to sample more than 125 beers! I don’t even know how accurate that count is!