I quite like things that challenge the taken-for-granted. I like that sensation of learning things that make you realise that you don't really know as much as you thought you did. I like the way that when I was in my 20s, I though I knew it all; when I was in my 30s, I realised that I didn't know as much as I thought I did; and now I'm in my 40s, I think that by the time I hit my 50s, I might have a decent working knowledge of most things that interest me. I just hope I'm still able to use that information creatively.
Some things that I've learnt about beer over the last few years; it's hard to say exactly what makes a great brewer; making good beer is much more about yeast management and cleaning than it is about malt and hops; just because everyone else says something is great doesn't mean that you will actually enjoy it; the trail of talent goes a lot further up the line than you think.
This last point was brought home listening to Paul Corbett, MD of Charles Farham Hop Merchants, talking about the state of the global hop industry. When you get into beer, it's usually just about the liquid in your glass and your relationship with it. As you develop that interest, you might broaden your horizons to take in the place you bought the beer, or the person who sold it to you. You might then go beyond that and get interested in brewers and breweries, and for many people, that's as far as the interest goes. What was clear, listening to Paul Corbett talk, was that an awful lot of the new wave of British brewing wouldn't be happening without the interaction between brewers, himself, and the hop growers making the new generation of hops that are driving the revolution.
I'll be honest, although it had occurred to me that there was any intermediary between the hop growers and brewers, I didn't really think about the level of influence there was. But it's hard to ignore when Paul casually dropped into his presentation that (for example) New Zealand hop varieties Riwaka and Motueka were originally named Saaz D and Saaz B respectively, until he suggested that perhaps they might look for a more New Zealand-specific name if they were to export them to Europe (presumably muttering "they already have Saaz there, numbnuts" under his breath). And it's him (and others like him) who are gently exerting pressure on producers of licenced brand hops (Ahtanum, Amarillo, Citra, Palisade, Simcoe, Warrior etc) to grow enough to meet demand.
So there we have it - from glass, to vendor, to brewer, to ingredients supplier, to ingredients grower, beer is intimately associated with the fortunes of a lot more people than one might think. And this idea is the starting point for my next post - Tired And Emotional - the last that I'll be posting about EBBC2012.