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2019 writing favourites

The year is almost over, and as ever it’s nice to look back at what I’ve achieved. I feel like I’ve done a lot this year, and there’s plenty more in the pipeline for 2020. But until then, here are some of the pieces I liked best from 2019.

The first is about wine rather than beer. I wrote an article for Pellicle Magazine about Andrew Nielsen, the man behind natural winery Le Grappin, and also the Kernel’s barrels.

Saint-Amour is a wine ruined by its name.

It translates roughly to Saint of Love in English. A century ago the wines of the Saint-Amour appellation were considered amongst the best in Beaujolais and commanded prices comparable to more pedigreed Burgundy wines. But as Valentines Day became increasingly commercialised, Saint-Amour winemakers saw their sales telescoped into one night of the year. Wine made in September was gone by February. Before long no one cared whether the wine was good, all that mattered was the label.

“It’s going to be on a prix-fixe menu and frankly everyone’s just looking to get a shag,” winemaker Andrew Nielsen tells me.

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Next up is one of the many articles I wrote for Ferment Magazine. This one is on Zwanze Day. I had particular fun working lots of religious vocabulary into this one.

If beer is your religion then Zwanze Day is one of its many annual observances, albeit one reserved for particularly fervent churchgoers. This ritual pertains to the Apostolic Church of Cantillon, and celebrates a style of brewing that was almost lost to the world. Every year Jean Van Roy, its high priest, releases a specially brewed limited-edition Lambic, and every year fans gather at carefully selected locations across the globe to tap the beer together at 9pm Belgian time.

Each year’s beer is different. Apart from the Zwanze name, the only thing that links them is their departure from orthodox Lambic flavours.

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IPA means nothing anymore

Very early on in the year I wrote an op-ed for October on how the term IPA is losing its meaning through overuse. Apparently it’s still going strong almost a year later, so I guess it struck a chord.

I’ve had sour IPAs, fruity IPAs, bitter IPAs, and brut IPAs. I’ve had IPAs with ABVs ranging from somewhere north of 10% all the way down to less than 3%. I’ve had IPAs that were clear and IPAs that were cloudy. I’ve drunk New England IPAs so turbid they looked like orange juice. I’ve had bright red fruited IPAs, white IPAs, and black IPAs.

Bob Pease, CEO and President of the Brewers Association, agrees. “IPA is less of a single style now and more a platform for innovation,” he says. His list of variants gets even wilder than mine. It includes imperial, West Coast, Belgian-style, Brett, or wild IPAs, plus spiced, herb, or vegetable IPAs.

Vegetable IPAs! How did it come to this?

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Finally back to Ferment for one of the coolest innovations I saw all year. Three young industrial and product design graduates are making brand new materials from brewery waste. Their first application could replace disposable plastic cutlery.

Oksana Bondar, Poppy Pippin and Nanna Guldbaek (better known in the beer world as Art-Director for Norwegian brewery Lervig) have banded together as Luna Lab and, in a corner of a whitewashed basement room, are busy creating brand new sustainable materials. Their raw ingredients are brewery byproducts, gross-sounding stuff that’s usually sent to landfill or washed down a drain: spent grain and trub, hop-gunk and sediment scraped from the bottom of the mash tun.

“Actually it’s quite beautiful. Let me show you,” says Guldbaek, diving into a little fridge set under a worktop. She pulls out a scuffed plastic tub, the type that might once have held cheap ice cream, and peels back the lid to reveal a slick of startlingly purple gloop. She tells me it’s sediment from a blackcurrant beer she picked up at Wild Card brewery the week before. “As soon as you open that one it has like a…” She stops and sniffs. “It smells like something you want to eat.”

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