The Essence of Style

People who read this blog know well enough what a beer style is; it’s the label on the bottle–“stout,” “gose,” “IPA”–that tells us what kind of beer we should expect to find inside. It’s the thing we fight about when the Brewers Association releases its annual judging guidelines, the quality that helps us assess whether a beer has been well-brewed or not. But if you think more deeply about style, you will come to see that it is actually a fascinating story that comprises the origins and development of that style as inflected by national brewing tradition, cultural preferences, ingredients, and even things as seemingly unlikely as war, famine, and taxes. Other fermented beverages like cider and wine are reflections of place. Beer is a constructed beverage, more like food, and beer style is akin to the cuisines of the world: they reflect the people that brewed them.

If you went around to the countries famous for their brewing traditions and asked them to serve you a “dark beer,” you’d get very different things in each country. In Dublin you’d get stout (natch). You might get a mild in England. In Belgium, they might serve you a very strong, dark ale. In the Czech Republic you’d get tmavé or černé, and in Germany you might receive a dunkel lager. If you told the story of any one of these beer styles, it would take you through all those elements I described above. Irish stouts, now 4% session beers, started out as strong, soured brown porters in London. How they migrated from one city to the other and became so radically transformed takes you through malting innovation, preference migration, the effect of taxes, and more.

In action.

I mention all of this, because it’s the lead-in to a talk I’ve been giving at my book events for The Beer Bible. Karen MacNeil’s precursor book The Wine Bible, was arranged around region, as befits a beverage dependent on terroir. My book was arranged around style, and in it you find several dozen fascinating stories about their slow development over the past five plus centuries. It makes sense for me to start at the place of style, which gives me the chance to tell some pretty entertaining stories. (Beer is chock full of entertaining stories.)

I mention this because I’m in the middle of a national book tour, and I think you’d enjoy spending an hour and a half chatting beer if I happen to come through your town. (The Q&As have been fascinating, too.) I know I’m a wholly unreliable source on this, but I think we’ve been having quite a bit of fun at them. Beginning Saturday, I’m on the East Coast, so have a look and see if I’ll be in your town.

Saturday October 3, Grey Lodge Pub, Philadelphia
4 – 5:30 pm. | Event details here

Sunday October 4, WORD Bookstore Jersey City, NJ

4 – 5:30 pm. | Event details here

Monday October 5, Sixpoint Brewery, Brooklyn

7-9 pm. | A ticketed event–buy tix here

Wednesday October 7, Sam Adams, Boston
6-8 pm. | Event details here

Thursday, October 8, Longfellow Books, Portland, ME

7 – 8:30 pm. | Event details here

Saturday, October 9, World Beer Festival, Durham, NC
Afternoon and evening events | Event details here

from Beervana

End of Summer Photo Contest

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers; Larry Weiner Design

Connecticut meadow garden with native wildflowers.

Summer is officially over, so let’s see what it looked like to Gardening Gone Wild readers with a new Picture This photo contest.  And let’s welcome some new participants from the PhotoBotanic ebook blog tour.

We will have 2 divisions this time: one for bloggers and one for Facebook entries. Only bloggers are eligible for The Gold award, but all entries are eligible for the Silver.  Additionally, at least two honorable mentions will receive critique and comment.

The Gold Award receives either a complete set of the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop e-books (now gold award winner) or a light diffusion disc that every garden photographer must have when working in the sun.  More below.

The contest runs from now until October 9 and must be a photo taken in the summer – so you can’t be tempted to run out and take a new photo.

Solidago canadensis ssp. elongata, Canada Goldenrod flowering in California native plant Sierra meadow

Canada Goldenrod flowering in California summer meadow.

You no longer have to have an active blog to enter, but we really like to see blog posts of your summer photos to share, so bloggers get first choice of prizes and I will link all blog entries in the judging.

1.  For bloggers to be eligible for judging, you need to leave us TWO LINKS – a direct link to the image, and a link to your blog post that includes the image (and that says you are entering the Gardening Gone Wild Picture This Photo Contest )– in a comment on this post. Your links need to be correct in order for your photo to be entered into the contest. If need be, check out Comments on a previous Picture This contests to see how others have done it.

For Facebook entries you must post your photo to the Picture This Facebook Page and then Comment here with your name and photo title saying you are entering the contest.

2. You are allowed one entry per contest; and by entering you give Gardening Gone Wild permission to reproduce it on our website.  While not a requirement, we urge you to watermark your photo in case it gets pinned or “borrowed”.

3. Please make the long side of the image needs to minimally be 800 pixels.

4.  The deadline for entries is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, October 9,  2015. There are no exceptions.

Well pruned manzanita (Arctostaphylos) shrubs with native grasses by swimming pool in The Melissa Garden, California

Manzanita shrubs with grasses by swimming pool in California summer garden.

The theme is simply: “Summer” – so that is pretty wide open.  Vegetables, fruit, and flowers.

Red harvest in late summer garden, tomato 'Supice', raspberry, cayenne papper, 'Sequoia' strawberry, rose, salvia, zinnia, fuschia, apple

Red harvest in late summer garden


Sidalcea hartwegii - Valley Checkerbloom - annual wildflower California native plant in Sierra meadow

Sidalcea hartwegii – Valley Checkerbloom California wildflower in Sierra meadow.


View through garden gate into summer garden with flowering Hydrangea shrubs

View through garden gate into summer garden with flowering Hydrangea shrubs


My e-book Good Garden Photography just received the Gold award from the Garden Writers Association as Best Overall Book published in 2014 and I have just finished a blog tour for the book and invited new garden photographers to our contest.  A complete set of all three Workshop e-books is one of the prizes.

3 e-books in store

The other prize is a diffusion scrim, a disk to soften the harsh light of summer.  I wrote about these tools in a post and showed how I use them :  How to create soft light for photos.

Sunlight scrim for harsh light for photographing Lilium humboldtii

Sunlight scrim for harsh light for photographing Lilium humboldtii

The Gold award photo winner gets to choose which prize they want.

But it’s not all about prizes, let’s share photos.  I will comment on them all.  Join in by Oct. 9.

from Gardening Gone Wild

In Britain: Cask Ale v. Craft

Last night, I was at Boulder Beer for a book event, and I had an interesting chat with brewmaster David Zuckerman. He’d recently been to England and was startled by the amount of American-style ale he found. (Quick and dirty definition: stronger, many more hops.) Like me, he loves a 3.8% bitter, and was concerned that these beers are slowly being put out to pasture in favor of what the English call “craft beer.” These are makers of what looks a lot like the standard American taplist, including non-English styles (which Americans love) like saisons, strong stouts, wild ales, and full-flavor lagers. They sell these, controversially, in bottles and kegs, like Americans do; there’s even a term of art called the “craft keg” which has been the subject of heated debate.  All of this has injected a huge amount of excitement into the British beer market, and beer geeks in the cities regard old-school cask like something grandpa drank. So, if you’re like David and me and enjoy grandpa’s old cask bitter, is this cause for worry?

By happy coincidence, London writer Pete Brown just announced the release of the latest Cask Ale Report. The story it tells is more complex than you might imagine, but it leaves me feeling hopeful. The most important piece of context in understanding British beer is recognizing that the vast, vast majority of it is mass market lager. Ales were supplanted a generation ago in their native country, and most Brits drink the same crap the rest of us do. So instead of thinking of things in terms of craft versus cask, it’s worth considering ales versus lagers. Craft and cask have a lot more in common with each other than either has in common with Stella Artois and Carlsberg. According to the report, cask accounts for just 17% of sales in pubs, and if you add keg ale into the mix, it goes up to between 25-30%.

The fascinating part of the report illustrates that the lines between craft and cask aren’t actually as clean as we imagine. Pete Brown:

Cask ale and craft beer are not the same – and neither are they totally separate. There’s a significant overlap between the two.

Avoiding the torture of trying to DEFINE craft beer, it’s possible to look at beers on a beer by beer, style by style basis and say ‘that one is definitely craft’ and ‘that one definitely isn’t’. Among everyone obsessed with trying to define craft, it;s hard to imagine anyone arguing that, say, Magic Rock High Wire is not a craft beer, or that John Smith’s Smoothflow is craft beer. So by looking at the market one brand at a time, analysts CGA Strategy have compiled (an admittedly subjective) list based on ingredients, beer styles and brewers so that craft can be measured even if it can’t be defined. With me? Good. On that basis, we can show that:

  • Craft beer has grown by 533% in five years and now accounts for 8% of total on-trade ale
  • Cask ale is by far the biggest format of craft beer

Much as in the US, this nebulous category of “craft brewing” has been great for the beer industry. It’s appealed to young people, brought a new population to beer, and helped create all those downstream positives like fests, good beer pubs, and interest among chefs and good restaurants. If you look at a company like Fuller’s, you see how craft has help transform their line of beers, giving them a chance to dabble in styles the old cask fans would never have appreciated. And that in turn has helped goose sales for traditional cask breweries willing to expand their horizon.

The other thing you’re seeing is cask, the dispense-system, being appropriated by craft breweries as a platform for other types of beer. Until a decade ago, “cask ale” wasn’t a term that pointed only to a method of brewing and dispense, but styles. Cask meant the same five styles of beer that have been brewed for generations. Pete didn’t make predictions about the future, but his report hints at evolving trends. Here in the US, we’ve already seen that the term “craft” is rapidly losing any meaning. If ales continue to claw back market share from mass market lagers in Britain, I suspect the distinction between craft and keg will also lose any meaning. You’ll have good beer, sometimes served on keg and sometimes served on cask. And then you’ll have generic mass market lagers.

Beer has been evolving since the Sumarians first made it 8,000 years ago, and it is in a moment of rapid change. Sometimes that means beloved beer styles fall by the wayside. (RIP jopenbier!) Maybe mild ale will be a casualty as British palates look for stronger, more flavor-forward ales. But I suspect there will always be a market for sessionable cask ales in English pubs.

from Beervana