Beer in union
Meeting the brewers defying Brexit to collaborate on a collection of world-class beers. Buy Citizens of Everywhere beers online here
Tuesday 19 March 2019
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Citizens of Everywhere
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Without wishing to sound ungrateful, the best thing about being a beer writer isn’t actually the beer. It’s the opportunity to meet so many generous, welcoming, fascinating people who are fiercely proud of what they do. I’ve had the good fortune to travel all over Europe, experiencing the different cultures and trying to get a feel for what makes each nation’s distinctive beer scene tick. Brewers are always proud of their homes, and keen to show you an authentic experience, often with wonderfully messy consequences. In short, it’s true what they say: beer people are good people.
They’re also broad-minded, adventurous people, who love working with their peers from different brewing traditions, who may have very different experiences, skills and ideas about what makes a great beer. When they’re done properly – rather than in the name of marketing – these cross-cultural collaborations can produce some truly astounding brews, that probably wouldn’t otherwise have seen the light of day. In fact, you could argue that this habit of taking existing knowledge and putting it through the kaleidoscope of one’s own experience and creativity has defined the international craft beer movement since some hairy Americans decided to revive English IPA nearly 50 years ago.
The Citizens of Everywhere project was set up by Sam Owens of Cambridge wine bar Thirsty and Justin Moor of Bristol’s Moor Beer, as a celebration of the pan-European brewing community and, to an extent, of the EU itself. Pairing 12 UK breweries with 12 of the best from throughout Europe, the aim is to create a superb line-up of beers first and foremost, but also to send out a message that the craft movement is truly international. Each recipe was inspired by an achievement or benefit of the EU, ranging from Peace in Western Europe to Freedom of Movement.
“There’s so much division in the world right now, that it felt really important to stand up and say ‘we’re a community and we want to make our world bigger, not turn in on ourselves’,” says Sam. “I’ve been friends with Justin for a long time and knew he felt this way too, so when the idea of a collaboration came up we just decided to make it happen.” Moor is firmly anchored in traditional British brewing, being a long-time CAMRA favourite and still the only UK brewery to have a certified real ale in a can. Despite this, its outlook is distinctly international, and Justin has spent his career working and making friends with his peers across Europe.
“When I started floating the idea of this project, the response was amazing,” says Justin. “I think people are starting to get a bit jaded my collaborations in general, but I get the feeling a lot of the other brewers were having a similar experience to me; they wanted some way to express the importance of this Europe wide brewing community, to stand up and ‘say this is something worth fighting to preserve’.”
The very real friendship between Justin and Giampa from Italy’s Birrificio Lambrate is genuinely touching, and embodies the spirit of the whole project.
“Of course I will keep brewing with Justin, he is my brother,” laughs Giampa over lunch on the day of the brew, putting his arm around his brewing partner. “When someone makes great beer and you love brewing with them, you will find a way to work together and party together. We are sad about what has happened with Brexit, but I will always love the UK.”
This sentiment is echoed passionately across every brewery I speak with.
“The idea of this project is to promote how much stronger we are together if we act strong and stay as brothers together,” says Vasja Golar, co-founder of Austria’s Bevog. “It’s not like we’re making an extreme political statement, but there is an idea behind this that says maybe not everything is perfect now, but the idea to leave the EU, which is working for us, isn’t a good idea.”
“It’s not a protest beer as such,” agrees Ben Fleet of Five Points, Bevog’s brewing partner. “It’s more about making the beer and spending time talking about different processes, how we make our beer and how we work in different countries. Our beer is an amber ale that uses a little bit of Vienna malt as a base, as well as Munich and Crystal malt. We’re hopping it with Ernest and Hallertau Blanc so it should be good!”
Iain Smith of Fyne Ales in Argyll, adds that the impetus to come together has led, most importantly, to the creation of great beer. “We’ve done a lot of collaborations with European breweries and we love the European Union - it’s obviously done a lot of good for our company in terms of getting our beers out to more people and selling our beer at the end of the day… When a collaboration’s got substance and a message behind it, it makes it much more valid and exciting, and important to be part of. But ultimately it’s still a bunch of amazing breweries teaming up to make amazing beers.”
Poland’s Stu Mostów, whose name appropriately enough means ‘100 bridges’, worked with Leeds-based North, which co-founder Gregg describes as “one of the most exciting brands in Europe”. He points out that the craft movement has created real demand among European consumers for beers from their neighbouring countries, and that demand is not going away.
“We have always aimed at promoting Polish beer traditions as well as bringing the best breweries, beers, beer experts to Poland and share their views and experiences. The united Europe-wide community makes it not only possible, but also very enjoyable,” says Gregg. “We have been blessed to meet some very special and talented people and breweries. Furthermore, Britain has become one of our biggest and favourite markets, so we truly hope that we can continue this path and Brexit won’t slow it down… we want and need British brewers to remain active in European beer scene.”
Yvan De Baets of Brasserie de la Senne in Belgium adds that working with breweries in other countries not only helps share beer knowledge, but also broader cultural understanding and appreciation.
“I knew the Thornbridge beers for a long time, but I didn’t know the people behind them. I was delighted to meet them because they were very nice people. We had some great chats about beer in general, and we immediately knew we were speaking the exact same language. We have totally the same values around beer, the same tastes. Also their region is wonderful - without this collab I probably would never have seen this delightful part of Great Britain,” he says.
Justin clearly put a lot of thought into the pairings, as even the brewers who had never met quickly found they shared a lot in common and became firm friends. This was even the case for partnerships which, on the surface, seemed a little off-piste, for example traditional cask brewer Ramsgate and Estonian craft renegades Põhjala.
“Põhjala have their own distinctive style, far removed from our own cask ale roots, and gaining an insight and some understanding into how they go about crafting dark beers has been a fascinating privilege,” says Ramsgate’s Eddie Gadd. “By return I think Chris thoroughly enjoyed getting into some of our cask before we moved on to our own interpretation of strong dark stout. After that, putting the collaboration beer together was plain sailing, using a slightly twisted Põhjala recipe from the forests.”
This project was great for us,” agrees Põhjala head brewer Chris. “It’s not often you get to work with a brewery that’s been craft since before craft was even a thing! As we’d exchanged a few emails, it was clear we were on the same page, that our values were very similar. Despite what you might think about some of our beers, balance is a key component; we’re known for our crazy strong Baltic porters, but if you don’t have balance in a beer like that it can be undrinkable. Likewise in a cask ale, if you don’t have the balance it’s the same problem. So, it’s two different ends of the same stick in a way.”
This blending of ideas, ingredients and brewing traditions, as a way of celebrating the diversity and collective creativity of modern Europe, is something each of the breweries seems to have picked up on and run with.
“We’re brewing a wheat beer, which is probably the biggest Belgian influence,” says Brasserie de la Senne’s Yvan. “Then we’ve used this beautiful, typically English yeast that Thornbridge uses, which brings a really nice fruitiness to it. For the hops we chose a mix of English varieties and German varieties. So, it’s taking its influences from across Britain and the continent. It’s a real mix, a genuine collaboration, where we each brought something and made the decisions together.”
Bevog also brought its own brewing traditions to its collaboration with Five Points. “There’s some interesting new hop varieties in the beer [such as Hallertau Blanc] so this is a modern twist on a traditional style,” says Bevog’s Vasja Golar. “We’re from Austria, so we wanted to take a little influence from Vienna for this beer but in the end it’ll be closer to an amber ale than a Vienna-style lager. It’ll be really balanced, with not too much bitterness and some nice fresh hop aroma. It should be a really nice beer!”
Fyne, partnered with Sweden’s Beerbliotek, went for a Belgian style which reflects the theme they were given, ‘protection of workers rights’. “It’s a little bit abstract,” admits Iain, “but that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun! A grisette is traditionally a workers’ beer, low-abv so you can have a pint on your break. This one’s coming out in spring, so we wanted something that would fit with that in terms of the flavours, so we added orange and lemon. it’s really nice and gentle, wheat-heavy, turbid, with a soft mouthfeel.”
Põhjala’s collaboration with Ramsgate is a Baltic porter which blends British malt and hops with spruce tips from the Estonian forest and juniper berries.
“We wanted to show this is the sort of fusion that’s easy just now,” explains Chris. “We sent those spruce tips by mail; this dodgy-looking package of vacuum-sealed green herbs. But that’s no problem at the moment. They have to get there pretty quickly, but add a couple of customs checks in there and you could well end up with a bag of mush by the time it arrives.”
Counting the cost
At the time of writing, the exact schedule and shape of Britain’s exit from the EU – and, indeed, whether it will happen at all – are still very much in the air. Perhaps as you’re reading this, our various leaders in Westminster and Brussels will have pulled a lapin out of le chapeau. Perhaps not.
There are undeniably corners of the industry that see a bright future for brewing and the beer trade in post-Brexit Britain. Wetherspoons’ founder Tim Martin has been characteristically vocal in his support of going it alone – up to and including a hard, no-deal Brexit – and has announced the entire chain will be switching to UK-brewed beers. CAMRA, meanwhile, has focused on the ‘opportunities’ for breweries and pubs, presumably in the hope that we’ll all start drinking cask when the price of Sierra Nevada hits £8 a pint.
Other industry bodies have been cagey about making concrete predictions on the actual impacts, preferring (quite understandably) to play up the strengths of Britain’s indigenous trade, and campaign for tax and regulatory reforms to help pubs and breweries minimise any damage. In its ‘post-brexit manifesto’, the British Beer & Pub Association sets out a relatively strident wish-list for our future relationship with the continent, including continued access to skilled workers, free trade in alcohol, adoption of European competition law and environmental standards, and a more competitive tax regime.
The health of Britain’s booze industry isn’t just a matter for the enthusiast either; as the BBPA points out, pubs and breweries make a significant impact to the economy at a national and local level, generating around £22 billion per annum and supporting 900,000 jobs. For tourists, Britain’s pubs are a beacon. They offer something uniquely British, and are often identified as a major attraction for a British holiday. Pubs are in the top three places to visit for tourists coming to the UK and seven out of ten visit a pub whilst they are here. Pubs serve over one billion meals per year and increasingly provide accommodation with some 50,000 rooms.
"I hope that politicians from continental Europe and the UK will not be stupid enough to put more barriers up, because that’s the last thing we need"
With free movement of workers between the UK and EU looking highly unlikely, Brexit could also literally change the face of your local. Written evidence to Parliament from the BBPA shows the highest proportion of non-UK nationals working in the industry is among pub operators and their staff. Some 17% of pub workers are migrants, with 14% (over 71,000 people) EU citizens. In pub kitchens, European nationals make up an astonishing 23% of the workforce.
When talking to breweries, “what are your plans for the next year” is a pretty standard (if unimaginative) interview question, for which most will have a stock answer, usually involving their export ambitions. These answers have become a lot less confident in recent months though, and several breweries I’ve spoken to have admitted to having multiple alternative strategies for the next 12-18 months, in some cases delaying investment until they know whether trade with the continent will still be viable after March.
“I think everyone’s worried,” says Yvan. “I hope that politicians from continental Europe and the UK will not be stupid enough to put more barriers up, because that’s the last thing we need. We will see, but I don’t have much confidence in our politicians.”
Chris at Põhjala continues: “We’ve already had emails from one of our major UK suppliers, saying they’ve no idea what’s going to happen, but that our supply could be interrupted. It’s insane. On a practical level, we’ve effectively written British companies out of our suppliers now. It’s not that I want to - we just need to know where our ingredients are coming from and how much they’re likely to cost.”
In a business with pretty narrow profit margins, this uncertainty is keeping brewers awake at night. The EU is the single largest export destination for British beer, accounting for around 60% of UK exports, with the next largest market, the US, accounting for just 20%. But as well as the cost of importing and exporting the beer itself, the detail of any Brexit deal (or the possibility of no deal) could have a big impact on the cost of ingredients. In the event of no deal, we would revert to WTO tariffs, amounting to a 3.2% hike in the price of hops, 11% on glassware and 1.7% on capital investments such as bottling and labelling machines. Not only will this apply to trade with EU countries, but also to any other nations with which we don’t have a trade agreement (basically, all of them just now).
"On a practical level, we’ve effectively written British companies out of our suppliers now"
The Maltsters Association of Great Britain – which represents 98% of UK malting production – is similarly concerned about the cost of losing Europe’s trading arrangements and support structures, citing estimates that withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy could lead to the loss of about 250,000 jobs in non-farm businesses, mostly in rural areas. Its number-one priority is continued free trade with EU members and favourable deals with other important partners such as the US and Japan.
Does all of this mean the end of craft beer in the UK, or at least of collaborating with our European neighbours? Come March, are we just going to pull up the drawbridge and start getting creative with Fuggle and East Kent Goldings?
“Britain has contributed so much to global beer, not just in terms of our traditional styles but also driving innovation in the craft era,” says Justin. “Some things might get more difficult on a practical or financial level, but we’re going to keep doing what we do, keep working with our friends on the continent and keep showing that this community isn’t defined by where in the world we are; it’s our values that bring us together, and that will keep us together.”
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