Thursday, 4 January 2007

A tale of two brewers

I've always liked breweries. They make a product that I like, for a start. But the brewing process is intriguing, and so are breweries.

Now to me a blast furnace is a blast furnace, and a car plant is a car plant. (And I've seen enough of both in my travels as an investment analyst.) But every brewery is different.

I've seen the Gambrinus brewery in Plsen - home of the original 'Pilsener' lager. I've seen the cathedral of beer at Okocim,  in Poland,  set into the side of a mountain. The huge, shiny, new gleaming steel of Saku Brewery in Estonia, and the 1890s German-made circular malting tower of its rival, Tartu.

(Tartu used to brew the most wonderful range of beers, with a 12% strong Yule beer and a great dark ale, but they seem to have dropped them from the product lineup. A pity - dark beers and stouts are a marvellous if little known part of the Eastern European brewing heritage. Ask for Budweiser Budvar Dark if you haven't tried the dark side yet.)

Now there are more microbrewers on the scene I've had a chance to visit some of them, too. And again, their setups are very individual.

One I know uses all second hand equipment from  other breweries. You can tell pretty quickly as you walk into his place - you'll see plenty of other breweries' badges on the equipment! The money goes into the materials - and the beer is first rate. But this is a Dickensian brewery and if I didn't know better I'd suspect he was the first guy to use Linux for Quill Pens. (I bet you he ends up reading this within minutes of my posting it...)

The other, just down the road from us in France, has obviously bet the farm on his brewery. Quite literally, as it's a new diversification for the family farm. It's all bright stainless steel and spotless floors.  And this doesn't stop him producing excellent beer - notably a triple fermented  biere de Noel which knocks the socks off any of the regular Belgian beers we can get in the supermarket here.

Is there a moral? Not really. The only conclusion I'd like anyone to draw from this story is that breweries are interesting places to visit - and there are plenty of breweries with well planned guided visits. (I'll put some up later.)

Or rather, yes there is a moral. Don't judge the brewery by the brewery tour - make sure you taste the beer!

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