Belgian Beer

A few years ago, we visited both Bruges and Brussels in Belgium. When I started seeing some articles about Belgian brewing and Covid-19 I was interested.

During this pandemic, things have changed quickly. A good example is the Belgian brewers. When Corona first hit and businesses closed, Belgian craft brewers were doing well. Later, the situation changed.

In April, about month into the pandemic, the New York Post had an article about Belgian brewers developing a delivery process because all the bars were closed. It highlighted one craft brewer whose business was expanding due to delivery sales. At this point the picture might have looked rosy.

By May, the situation ad changed. The Belgian Brewers Federation announced that production of beer had dropped 50 percent in April.  The drop in production affected small brewers the most and one third of brewers had ceased producing any beer.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Eoghan Walsh who has a blog, Brussels Beer City, stated a podcast, Cabin Fever. On the podcast where he and other people involved in aspects of the craft brewing industry talk about what they are doing during the pandemic and what they are drinking. I have enjoyed listening to it because it is an easy going way to learn about how the pandemic is affecting the beer industry.

Brussels, 2017

Inequality

I am back from a vacation. We spent four nights in Miami Beach and four nights in Mexico City. One of the nights we were in Miami Beach was my birthday; to celebrate we had dinner at The Bazaar, a Jose Andres restaurant.

Andres is a well known chef who has had legal issues with Donald Trump. He has also done a lot of humanitarian work  for Puerto Rico and other places following hurricanes and natural disasters.  The Bazaar is at the other end of the economic spectrum from hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico. Many  of the restaurants in Miami Beach are in hotels; The Bazaar is in the SLS hotel.

There was a strict dress code; my husband had to return to our hotel to change from his sandals to closed toed shoes. I did the same for good measure. The server, Louis,  was nice but very obsequious. He kept calling me Miss Amy. The food, served tapas style was excellent but very expensive. The whole meal, including drinks and dessert, cost $220 . A single piece of caviar, which we didn’t have, was $85. A shot of Tito’s vodka was $19. At a package store, you can buy a 750 ml bottle of Tito’s for the same price.

There is a dichotomy between Andres’ charitable works and the prices at some of his restaurants. I really don’t know why a meal should cost several hundred dollars. My personal preference is for less expensive food in a more relaxed atmosphere. While in  Miami Beach we ate at another restaurant, Orange Blossom. The food tasted great and was half the price of The Bazaar. The place hada cozy yet romantic ambiance.

Here are some pictures from our trip:

Teotihuacan Pyramid

View from the 18th floor of our hotel

My whole family at my niece’s wedding

 

Mexican Beer

The next two weeks I will be on vacation. Part of the time I will be in Mexico City. In honor of my trip here is a post about Mexican beer. I will resume regular posting on March 11.

Before 1910 most beer in Mexico was brewed by small brewers. In the 1890s big modern breweries developed and by 1899 five firms controlled sixty three percent of the market. By 1910 the major brewers distributed nationally. The companies were vertically integrated, holding monopolies in everything from bottles to the railroads.

Corona Extra is the sixth largest beer brand in America and the top import. Constellation Brands owns Corona and Modelo. Modelo is the seventh largest beer brand. An industry analysis of Constellation  stated “Constellation’s story includes … a powerful demographic tailwind. Its core consumer base skews towards Hispanics, a sizable demographic whose primacy will only increase over the coming years. We find it fairly intuitive that Hispanics place a premium on Mexican beer, as it speaks in part to a shared culture and heritage, and in our view, these dynamics are at the heart of Constellation’s superb operating profile…”  There are some stereotypical assumptions in this analysis. For the full analysis, click here.

In 2010 Heineken bought the Mexican brewer Femsa; its brands are Dos Equis and Tecate. The company had a 43 percent share of the Mexican beer market. Dos Equis is twentieth. A german brewer in Vera Cruz created it in the nineteenth century. Tecate is 29th; Since  2013 it has had a 35 percent decrease in shipments. For the  full list of the top 31 brands, go here.

Mexico has a small craft brewing segment. These brewers produce ale; the majority of Mexicans drink lager. Most Mexican craft beer is exported since there is not really a market for it within Mexico. Mexico is third in global exports of beer, most of which goes to Canada and the United States.

 

 

Skating Competition, Part 2

I competed for the first time, Saturday, at the 33rd Halloween Classic, Winterland Skating School, Rockland, Massachusetts. Here is a picture of me before I went on the ice.

Despite all my preparation, I was extremely nervous and did not skate the way I had planned.  My legs felt like jelly but I did go on the ice and skate, which I feel was a big accomplishment. I was the only skater in my event, so I skated against “the book”. I am not sure what the criteria for judging was, but I got second place and received a medal.

I also earned four points for the Silver Lining Club. The club came in second for the competition so I contributed to that result.

I can’t say I enjoyed myself but it was a learning experience. If I compete again, I will try to find an event where Kiara, my coach from the Skating Club of Amherst, can be the one takes me. She knows me really well and I have complete confidence in her.

I would also practice skating my program from different places on the ice so I would be comfortable no matter where the judges were and where I had to start.  Connecting certain moves to specific points in the music would also help.

It turned out that competing in a spotlight event meant that the rink got dark, very dark. The only light was a spotlight the followed the skater. I didn’t realize what spotlight meant until I got to the rink. Next time, I would know, be more prepared, and not get so freaked out.

The nicest part of the experience was the support I got from the audience, other skaters, Kiara, Andrea and Aaron. I appreciated that so much and I am very grateful.

Travel Part 2

The end of July we went to Bridgewater, MA where I tested in the Pre-Alpha level of skating in the ISI system. I did this so I can compete in October. Before we got to Bridgewater, we went to the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA. It was a great place. The museum  had a basket exhibit which I wanted to see. I used to weave baskets so I found the exhibit really interesting. This basket is by  Katherine Lewis. It is willow and the technique she used to make was rope coil randing and twining.

We also saw  Tom Kiefer: El Sueño Americano – The American Dream which was  photographs of the various personal items, food and other materials that are taken away from immigrants and refuges who are being held in a detention camp in Texas. This was a very powerful and disturbing exhibit.  One of the items people have to give up is condoms.

In August we went to  Maine for a few days. We stayed in Casco, right on one of the lakes. We took a couple of hikes with some beautiful views. It was a lovely relaxing time with the whole family.  It already feels like was a long time ago.

 

Travel, Part 1

This post is a bit like “what I did on my summer vacation”; more accurately it is some of things I have been doing this summer, with pictures. In June,  Horizons for Homeless Children had an event for volunteers at the Smith College Botanical Garden. I am a volunteer; I go once a week and play with children who are living in a shelter.

In July, we went to New Orleans to visit my cousin and his wife. It was very hot but we  had a great time.  July is not usually the time I would visit New Orleans but my cousin was recently diagnosed with ALS and I wanted to see him. My brother died of ALS so this feels like a cruel joke. ALS is a terrible disease and I hope there will be a cure very soon.

While we were there we visited the World War II Museum. During the war my father helped produced parachutes while stationed in England and in Scotland.

Next week, I will tell you about what I did at the end of July and the beginning of August. I bet you can’t wait.

Maine Beer

I recently read an article about Maine beer. The state is second, after Vermont, in the number of breweries per capita. Maine has over 80 breweries.[1]  Maine’s love of beer is a recent development. Here is an explanation from Brewing Battles.

“In Jacksonian America, the various states regulated the retail sale of alcohol, placing license fees on dealers as a minimal control on consumption. The growing temperance movement attacked the license system as inadequate and advocated new legislation. By 1850 reformers had moved from local control of liquor sales to statewide prohibition.[2] In every northern state except New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators enacted or popular referenda passed “inclusive prohibitory or constitutional measures.”[3]

“In the 1850s, no state had the police capacity to enforce the provisions of this legislation, known as the Maine Law. As a result, advocates of the legislation created extra-legal groups, ostensibly to gather evidence and swear out complaints. Unfortunately, the “leagues” often overstepped these boundaries, generating violence. Both retailers and drinkers refused to accept the legitimacy of prohibition legislation. Liquor sellers organized to fight the Maine Law and the extra-legal enforcement “leagues,” and German and Irish immigrants opposed the law for cultural and economic reasons. The working class as a whole also resisted state intrusion into customary behavior.”[4]

Maine was the first state to pass such a law. Most states repealed the legislation by the 1860s. Maine repealed its law temporarily but reinstated it in 1857 and didn’t repeal it until 1934.[5]

Today, however, Maine is a poor state and beer is a source of reliable revenue. You can go on a Maine Beer trail and visit some of the over 80 breweries. We will be in Maine in August and I plan to visit at least of few of the breweries on the trail. I’ll let you know about the results.

 

[1] https://www.craftbrewingbusiness.com/news/infographic-what-states-have-the-most-breweries-per-resident/

[2] Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 226.

[3]; The Cyclopaedia of Temperance and Prohibition, (New York, 1891), 275–361.

[4] Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 290–307.

[5] William L. Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), 17.

In the News

Here is a look at some articles about beer and distilled spirits that I have read recently.

George Lenker, the Beer Nut, writes about a new craft beer bar opening in Northampton. It is in my neck of the woods so I will definitely try it and let you know what I think.

Mankato, Minnesota was the home town of Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy Books. I loved the books when I was growing up and last year I re-read them all. This article is about a brewery in Mankato. I hope to visit Mankato some day and see Lovelace’s house.  Now I will also plan on visiting the brewery.

The final article looks at craft beer and distilled spirits across the country. The author picks a local beverage for each state. The pick for Massachusetts is Mystic Brewery’s Table Beer which is a saison . Some of the other choices sound really good. I will keep them in mind when I am traveling.

 

Chinese Drinking

I came across this really interesting article about Asian immigrants who live in Oregon and are the only distillers of the traditional Chines liquor, baijiu. When we were in China in 2005, we were frequently served baijiu. It is very viscous and has a high alcohol content.  The baijiu we had was made from sorghum. The people in Oregon seem to use rice.

I am posting something I wrote about out trip to China. I did post in the blog I had before this WordPress  site but I can’t seem to find out if I have ever posted it here. If it is a repeat, I apologize.

Chinese Drinking

My family and I recently returned from visiting Hong Kong and mainland China. My husband is the vice president of a private undergraduate liberal arts college and the purpose of our trip was to visit several Chinese educational institutions. Because of this, the very nice, friendly, and generous Chinese people we met treated us as celebrities or in their context, dignitaries. The main consequences of this treatment were many banquets held in our honor.

I have not attended that many banquets in the United States but the few I have been at have begun with a cocktail hour then proceeded to a multi course meal with dessert and wine. Chinese banquets are completely different from this. The meal always takes place in a private room around a round table. At each place setting there are three glasses; a water glass, a wine glass, and a very small shot glass, probably one-half ounce in capacity. At the beginning of the meal, the host will ask the honored guest, my husband in our case, if they want “spirits”.

At our first banquet this request elicited amused responses from the other Chinese guests as well as some good-natured warnings about the potent “firepower” of the spirits. The Chinese woman sitting next to me who spoke English stated the spirits “were not for women.” Although this surprised me, I wished to be polite and therefore refrained.

When my husband said he would try it, his water glass probably about eight ounces-was filled with a 50 percent alcohol, clear, viscous liquid. This alcoholic beverage was baijiu, which is distilled from sorghum. All the guests drinking also had their glasses filled. As the meal proceeded the host toasted my husband, pouring from his big glass into the small shot glass, raising it high, downing it while saying Gam Bei (Bottoms Up!) and then showing the empty glass to my husband. At that first banquet there must have been at least ten toasts. Many of the guests completely emptied their large glasses and then received refills. The whole event had a competitive and masculine tone with the goal being to see who can drink the most.

All of our subsequent banquets followed this pattern. Some did not involve spirits so the drinking was much more subdued. At different banquets, various participants had a greater or lesser affinity for alcohol and the total amount of alcohol consumed varied. Women did participate although not as vociferously as the men. Some participants filled their large glasses with water and then proceeded to participate in the social aspects of the toasting ritual without running the risk of inebriation.

As a historian who has written about alcohol and the industry and has attended over twenty-five years of conferences on the general subject, the heavy drinking I observed in China came as a complete surprise. The global studies of alcohol and drugs have always focused on opium and tea as China’s chosen psychoactive substances. There is also a literature that seems to suggest that, because Chinese drinking takes place during meals, it is more moderate.

Alcohol experts define binge drinking as the consumption of five or more drinks at one time. In the United States and increasingly internationally, it is college age people who most often indulge in this behavior. Binge drinking on college campuses has led to an increase in death from alcohol poisoning and is the subject of many research projects.

At the Chinese banquets I attended many of the men present had at least eight drinks. Binge drinking in America often has a ritualistic aspect; newly “legal” drinkers in the Southwest spend their first night as a twenty-one year old seeing how much alcohol they can consume. The showing of empty glasses and the good-natured urging to continue drinking at Chinese banquets is the same kind of behavior. There is obviously a whole aspect of Chinese consumption of psychoactive substances that remains unexplored.

When I was thinking about posting the above, a front page article in the New York Times appeared. Entitled, “Got a Mint, Comrade? China Cracks Down on Liquid Lunch,” the article discussed the Chines practice of lunchtime banquets where alcohol, usually baijiu, plays a large role. The Chinese government usually foots the bill for these alcohol-laden meals and thus wants to curtail the amount of drinking.

The article also indicates that consumption of baijiu has declined as a more prosperous, younger generation has begun to drink other spirits, wine, and beer. Around the same time the Times covered this story we entertained visiting Chinese scholars in our home. They all declared that the thing they missed most from home was baijiu. The drinking habits of China, both historically and in the ever-changing global market, call out for further exploration and research.

Short Week

We were away over the Memorial Day weekend and then went home for two days to New York. I therefore didn’t have time or enough internet access to produce a blog post on any meaningful topic.

Here is a picture of the scenery  on the long hike we took in Newfane, Vermont.

We also went to Hildene in Manchester, Vermont. Hildene was the summer home of Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son. It was a big house but not ostentatious. It is large property and the views were beautiful.

My favorite room in the house was Mary Lincoln’s study. She was Robert’s wife; the room had a small desk,  a seating area and large windows. The windows looked out on a formal garden. Each square had peonies that were just about to bloom.

On the way home from Brooklyn where we had been visiting our son, we drove past the hospital where I was born. I had never seen the building so it was great to do that. It has been converted into apartments.