By: Ben Engler
In order to provide you with some real beer knowledge, Made Man caught up with one of the world’s great beer minds, Charles Bamforth. The UC Davis professor was kind enough to offer thoughts on the current state of the beer industry and discuss his upcoming book, “Beer is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing.”
First things first, what are you drinking today?
“Well, I’ll tell you what I had for lunch. I had a couple of pilsners from Sudwerks.”
(When you are The Professor of Beer, you are allowed a couple pints at lunch. Also, it was his daughters birthday and she wanted burgers and beer.)
You have had an illustrious career in beer, so what jealousy-invoking title is currently read on your business card?
“My business card reads Anheuser Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Science. AB has been hiring brewmasters from [UC] Davis for years, and they wanted to make sure that would continue, so they invested a good deal of money in the school.”
Can I recommend a title?
How about, “Brewing Buddha?”
“Haha. That would capture my pursuits outside of beer as well.”
(Author’s note: I am quite certain Professor Bamforth will be tossing this new title around to incoming students next term.)
In the beginning of your book, you set the scene of yourself as a young man in the pub, observing the crowd enjoying their pints. Did you know then beer would become your life?
“No, not at all. All I wanted to be was a footballer. It took awhile, but eventually I realized that was not going to happen. After years in school, I thought I might be a university lecturer. The first job that really took my eye was a position the Brewing Research Foundation. Beer was accidental as my whole life has been. There has never been a plan.”
(His book contains amusing accounts in the footnotes of his triumphs as a goalie, despite being 5′ 7” and bespectacled.)
Would you say it has worked out?
“Yes! There are many people who want my job. But they can’t have. I’ve got it.”
So, who did you write this book for?
“Me. And people who are outside the world of beer. And those just interested in learning more about beer.”
What do you hope the masses will get out of reading it?
“I think people will say, ‘Hey, that’s interesting,’ or, ‘I didn’t know that about beer.’ I want people to understand how beer is impacted by politics and business and what that means for brewing communities and what it means for the consumer. There is a lot going on behind each pint that we drink. I want people to gain a reverence for beer. This is a socialist and humanist approach to beer and brewing.”
Speaking of that missing reverence, you spend a bit time in the book discussing things hurting the perception of beer. How can that be changed?
“People need to be convinced to view beer in the same light as wine, but without all the bullshit terminology. Beer is healthier, pairs better with food, and more difficult to make than wine. Yet when you go to a bookstore, you’ll find many beautiful and expensive books on wine, but very little for beer. Beer is better than that.”
(Charles is not too fond of drinking games, as they reflect poorly on beer. He wants you to enjoy your beverage. And he doesn’t want to provide neo-prohibitionists with ammunition.)
How do you feel about America’s Craft Brewing scene?
“Love it! I wish they wouldn’t add so bloody many hops, though. I delight in craft brewing industry and their genuine passion.”
How is American beer perceived in Europe?
“When I said I was going to America, everyone asked if it was to put flavor in their beer. American beers, on average, have a higher alcohol by volume than English brews. I think there is a confusion around alcohol intensity and flavor intensity. Craft beer has not made it across seas too much, so people do not understand the range of availability. They know Bud or Coors.”
Is the beer industry healthy?
“Yes. Interest in beer is growing; craft is growing. Some things are unhealthy, though. The big guys are getting too big, which limits choice and opportunity. There are also some within the industry bent on attacking each other, which is not good. People are buying too much cheap beer from the supermarket and drinking it at home. Beer should be consumed in moderation as a social activity, off the couch, in a pub.”
(The professor believes beer should be the heart and focus of every pub, at least the good ones. Thus, he advocates for a law stating that a pub is not allowed to change, but must remain the same, from generation to generation. Tough to argue with the man. He just wants to save our beer drinking souls.)
What trends do you see in beer?
“I think brewers will continue to push the envelope of brewing, whether it be by adding new ingredients or bringing the alcohol percentage to ridiculously high levels.”
(Charles is not a fan of the alcohol arms race currently taking place. Remember Tactical Nuclear Penguin? It has been bested, several times!)
What trends would you wish for?
“I would like to see brewers make use of traditional materials. I would like to go to a supermarket and see beer classified by varietal, whether it be hops or malts, like wine is. Then we could really celebrate the skill of the brewer. I would like for breweries to champion the heritage of beer. I want people to gain a reverence for beer.”
(Yeah, he is old school. He is also The Professor of Beer, so you better pay attention.)
Finally, what beer pairs best with your book?
“Why would you drink something you don’t like? My book is best paired with your favorite beer.”
“Beer is Proof God Loves Us” is an amusing, insightful and thought provoking read, and will be available later this fall. Pick it up and make a stop at the beer shop. Too bad your professors didn’t recommend enjoying a beer with assignments…