Friday, 26 February 2010

Great Breweries and Great Beer


You may or may not be aware of the banter and information exchange that goes on on Twitter. I do think it detracts greatly from blogging, but sometimes a good subject comes up. It is in the Title above and was prompted by a comment from Mark Dredge about "great Scottish breweries" and my retort that while there are some good ones, there aren't any that are great. Barry chipped in too asking what defines a great brewery. These are great questions in a chicken and egg sort of way. "Does great beer come from great breweries?" " Can a brewery be great, yet not produce "great" beers?" " Are beers the point not breweries?" "What's the definition of great?"

I don't think I'm going to answer this completely, but there are one or two things that should be included in the definition of "great" in this context. My list isn't definitive. The beer must be very good and consistently so. There should be wide recognition of the brewery's place in brewing lore. The recognition should be across the range and whatever they brew. But it is difficult. Does Duvel become a great brewery solely because of Duvel, while the rest of the range is merely very good. Does innovation and tradition have anything to do with it? I'd argue Paulaner is a great brewery, but they don't brew a single great beer. Is Brew Dog a great brewery because of innovation? Is Marble because of a great range? You see how difficult this is?

Or is it just down to great beers? I really don't know the answer, but I'll be interested in others take on the subject.

PS: Even contenders from greatness have off nights. I wasn't at all impressed with Marble beers in the MA last night.

15 comments:

Mark said...

It's an interesting idea and there should be some interesting comments. A few messages later we mentioned semantics, and that's important. Twitter, because of the 140 character limit, is necessarily short. Me saying that Scotland has a few great breweries worth checking out is not to label them as some of the best breweries in the world, it's to name a few worth seeking out - Orkney, Harviestoun, Fyne, Cairngorm, Williams, etc. And if I say Orval, for example, is a great beer, others can easily disagree as it's a personal thing.

Whether they are all 'great breweries', I don't know, but they make some great beers, which is good enough for me. I agreed with Barry's comment about great beer rather than great breweries because I think you need to consider a brewery by their beer and nothing else. What makes Paulaner a great brewery if their beers are not great? Could the same be said for Budweiser? I agree that some recognition of their place in brewing lore is important, but that's something which is hard to define in the moment. I guess the fact that we know about the breweries and are talking about them is enough to give them a place for now?

Marble has great brewers who make great beers but are they are great brewery yet? This can get into a whole philosophical discussion... I guess it's easy to say that a brewery is great (it's a casual thing, like saying that film was great, or I had a great dinner), and easy to say why (I enjoy the beer), but it's harder to define what a great brewery actually is or what it should be (the same as describing a great restaurant, which won't appeal to everyone and will have some dishes which aren't to everyone's tastes, even the biggest fans).

Like I say, it's an interesting idea.

Tandleman said...

Great comments. I think the answer for me is I just don't really know.

Dominic said...

Simple - Let's organise the Brewers' Olympics, tally up the medals, then decide just which breweries are truly great. I'm thinking mash tun digging, malt-bag carrying cross country, cask washing competitions (dry-hopped and non dry-hopped), the kilderkin press etc. Colin and I do this sort of stuff regularly, which, when we're caught, usually gets us a bollocking and an elf n safety lecture.

Sorry to hear the beer was shite last night. You'll be pleased to know full investigation is underway. This may involve some beer tasting...

Contenders FOR greatness anyway...

Erlangernick said...

Yeah, what makes Paulaner great? Size? Age? They do brew some shite--that "Kellerbier", for one.

Tandleman said...

Dominic. Not shite, just lacking their usual vibrancy and condition. Off the boil a bit.

Whorst said...

Blah, blah, blah. This isn't directed at Herr'man, but who really cares?? I brew some of the best beers in the world on my fucking patio. They'd make a preacher lay his bible down! Great beer can come from anywhere. Great is also subjective. One mans greatness is another mans lout.

Paul Garrard said...

Great Breweries and Great Beer’ all sounds a bit pretentious really. One pace to the left of wine snobbery me thinks. I know what I like. Other people will like something different. That’s it really.

Matt said...

I think history, range and availability all come in to it. So if you only brew one beer or the beers are only available in your brewpub I don't think you qualify as a 'great brewery'.

A list of English 'great breweries' would I suggest include Adnams, Fullers, Holts, Hydes, Lees, Moorhouses, Robinsons, Shepherd Neame, Timothy Taylor and Wells & Youngs (based on personal experience and admittedly a little Northern-centric).

Gazza Prescott said...

"Marble has great brewers who make great beers but are they are great brewery yet?"

After being set up by one of the greatest brewers the UK has ever seen (Mark wasn't old enough to drink then!) and having brewed consistently excellent beers for the last 12 years or so (and I've been keeping check..!) I think they are.

Whereas Brewdog are innovative, sometimes superb but not, IMO, great - yet.

Tandleman said...

You refer I assume to Brendan Dobbin. If so, agreed.

Gazza Prescott said...

Mr Dobbin indeed.

Leigh said...

It's just down to taste. Which is subjective.

Tandleman said...

True, but it wouldn't be much fun if we just left it at that would it?

Gazza Prescott said...

"It's just down to taste. Which is subjective"

I don't think it is entirely. Some brewers can brew and some can't, that's a fact of life, and I'm not on about personal preference here - I'm on about being able to create excellent recipes, brew consistently and well and suchlike; some people just can't do this!

Agreed, personal taste matters to the person, but quality over-rides personal taste in that a good brewer is a good brewer regardless whether you like 'em or not.

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