Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Beer vs wine - discriminating tastes or discrimination?

BRUSSELS - Tensions once again are rising (in fact you might say they're frothing over) because of French proposals for another new tax on beer. The government is considering extending an existing 'premix' tax on sugary alcopops to cover the malted sugars in beer. The move comes in the wake of last year's decision to raise the excise duty on beer by up to 160%. That hit Belgian breweries particularly hard, as French beer consumption fell fast once the rise came into effect in last January.

They have taken much of the pain of the tax rise because France remains their largest export market by far. 
“In France, beer excise duty is now the highest in Europe”, explains Sven Gatz, the Director of Belgische Brouwers, the national federation of brewers.
“The increase in excise duty means that a glass of pils-type beer (5% ABV) is now taxed ten times more than before; for a glass of speciality beer, the tax is as much as sixteen times higher.”.

Taking it to Brussels
The Belgian brewer's aren't taking this lying down, with the dispute now echoing round the halls of Brussels, over what is seen as an infringement of EU competition rules. Beer is being subject to these increased taxes, while wine has been left exempt by the French.
As Sven Gatz, told us “The Belgische Brouwers and the umbrella organisation Brewers Of Europe that promotes the interest of the brewing industry have now submitted a complaint to the European Commission about this rise in excise duty”.
But now a new front is being opened up, in what is threatening to become a full-blown confrontation between the two nations. The increase in excise duty was, it seems, just a first step. The French authorities now also want to introduce a sugar tax on white beers with added sugar, an approach typical of bottle-fermented Belgian beers.

Sugar tax not so sweet
The French law makers have calculated that a new income stream of 450mil Euros will flow from the increase. That's certainly needed now, as the projected revenues from the first rise in excise duty has failed to materialise. As beer sales in France have fallen, the income raised is a third lower than expected.
These revenues were to be part of President Hollande's attempt to raise money for social services. It seems that France is seeing the same phenomenon that happened in Scandinavia and the UK, after they raised excise duties in previous years. Sales dropped partly because of duty increases.
The new rule would apply to beers that, after primary fermentation, have a minimum of 35g of sugar per liter added. In practice these measures would only affect Belgian brewers, as they are the only producers of this type of beer.
The sugar tax could increase the price of around thirty of the nation's beers by 2 Euros per glass.
Beer vs wine - discriminating tastes or discrimination?
Many are wondering whether it is more than revenue generation that lies behind these repeated tax rises. Already, beer is taxed far more highly than wine in France.
The new rule will only exacerbate the difference.
Some see the power of the French wine industry as being behind the different treatment. Certainly the Belgische Brouwers are continuing to lobby against what seems an obvious discrimination, though the French argue there is no comparison. They class wine as an agricultural product, while beer is seen as 'industrial'.
Others still look to the wider political backdrop to relations between Belgium and France. Much has been made over the last few years over high profile 'tax exiles', such as Gerard Depardieu.
They have allegedly shifted to the Belgian side of the border to avoid Hollande's 75% tax on the super-rich. Personal taxes are much lower in Belgium.

And when pressed by the Belgian prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, over last year's French tax rise, Hollande is reported to have riposted "we are just as attentive to all the fiscal rules which may apply in Belgium."

Friday, January 3, 2014

And now there is sour beer

Hottest Food and Beverage Trends for 2014.
Hoteliers - Hotel,Travel & Hospitality News

Sour Beer: Innoculating beers with wild yeasts and aging them in wood, craft brewers are turning out fragrant but sour … really sour … beers. Not for everyone, but catching on among sophisticates……
A new breed of brewers is coming up, where they take a huge risk simply to bring in beer which people may not even like. These are the brewers of sour beer.
 Sour beer is brewed in barrels, and then they are left to sit for up to 3 years before the brew is then tested to see if the wait was worth it. This is a risky and expensive affair and the brewers of sour beer must be out of their minds.
Sour beer started being brewed in Belgium but lately some of the brewers in the U.S. have taken a liking to the practice. The first sour beers were introduced in the USA in 2002.

Here are some comments I have read about sour beer:

--“The rise of craft brewing in the United States and the emergence of upstart small breweries in other parts of the world has produced a new generation of brewers who aspire to create increasingly unique and flavourful beers.  Many of these brewers have taken inspiration from classically sour Belgian beer styles. Not content with mimicking Belgian sour beers, they have started to develop what might be termed ‘new world’ sour beers. Many of these new sour beers have no agreed-upon guidelines and are yet to be classified in any particular category.”--

--“This, of course, is part of the fun for the brewers who are making them. Some are aged in wine barrels, while others are aged in bourbon or whiskey barrels, successfully blending flavours that typically might not work well together… The wild yeast strain Brettanomyces is considered a scourge in most of the world’s vineyards [but] cultured Brettanomyces is often used in the making of new world sour beers. Desirable flavours with sour beer using Brettanomyces are earthy, barnyard, mushroom, musty and a general ‘funkiness’.” --

--“What is certain, if improbable, is that sour beers are taking hold, especially in the United States. Just as ‘natural winemaking’ is slowly emerging from cult status, so is the production and enjoyment of sour beers.” --

--“I came to realize that sour beers are primarily about funk, and funk, when it comes to beer, means complexity. Sour beers are fascinating, often strange, and generally food-friendly because of their acidity, but one thing they're not is easy-drinking. Well, most of them aren’t.”--

--“this is a trend that is not necessarily new, but there are now more beer drinkers who are accepting these styles of beer.  Beer does not always have to be sweet; it can be induced with fruit to provide a
sourness on the palate. The variety originated in Belgium and is now catching on in the US.  Many brewers are creating sour styles as an alternative to their regular line-up of beers.”--

--“As sour styles gain greater acceptance by a wider audience, new drinkers are trying these beers, which are often balanced like fine wines.  Pairing these styles of beer with cheese can help create a perfect balance… The original traditions of sour beer-making come from Belgium and parts of Germany, and some of these beers are gaining cult status [9] among American beer geeks who until recently weren't familiar with this funkiest end of the beer spectrum.”

Comment by Andy Sparhawk, the American Brewers Association's craft beer program coordinator, is a Certified Cicerone® and BJCP Beer Judge.
If I had to choose one category of beer that might challenge the current IPA craze in the U.S., I would have to go with barrel-aged sour beers. Like the bitterness of IPAs, sour/wild beers pack a punch with, well, their sourness, but it may be the complementary flavors—from wooden barrels or additions of fruit—that keep beer fans wanting more of these exciting beers. That said, truly complex sours take care and patience throughout the entire production process to ensure that the final product is an experience for the consumer, rather than just an experiment for the brewer.

At the end of 2014 Slabtown Brewery
will release it's first sour beer!