By Bill Yenne
Preface by: Fergal Murray - Master Brewer, Guinness, Dublin
I have worked in the world of beer for nearly 30 years. I was taught by the masters of their craft in a brewery where knowledge and skill were handed down through more than two centuries, but more than anything, I gained from them a sense of passion for what it takes to be a brewer.
During my career, I have brewed beer on two continents, and I have traveled to over 50 different nations on every continent. I would guess that I have had at least one beer in each of these countries. I suppose I’ve probably been in more bars across more nations than most of my fellow beer lovers. I’ve been in brewhouses and bottling halls all over the world and I’ve witnessed a lot of passion and dedication to the brewing of great beer.
For all brewers, the four basic ingredients—water, malt, hops, and yeast—are fundamentally the only way to make great beer. As I have learned, and as I advise everyone who brews, a good brewer starts with a clear and precise process, practices a recipe, and continues to practice the same recipe to be consistent and to maintain and improve the quality. As I often say, watch your hygiene, mind your yeast, and cherish the goodness that comes from the malt base. As an old brewer once told me, “get it right in the brew house, and with good yeast, everything else is just time.”
However, for a brewer to become a master brewer is to exude a passion for our craft, and to put heart and soul into our beer.
I’ve have had some extraordinary beer experiences, made remarkable by great locations, great breweries, and unique events and situations to celebrate. I’ve savored my beer in exclusive high-end bars, in street corner pubs, in beach taverns, and in jungle shacks.
I fondly remember one atrociously hot sweltering night in Lagos many years ago, just after another military coup. We got into one of those traffic jams you can only get into in Africa, where cars, buses, trucks, cows, goats, sheep, people, and all of God’s creations merge, and chaos prevails. (When this happens, you do not try to think how to solve the problem—it can’t be done.) This night, two colleagues and I, with our drivers, had gotten out the brewery gate and had entered the fray. I remember that when we realized we had not moved, and the air conditioning in the cars was beginning to falter, we got out of our cars to survey the scene. My colleagues and I, seasoned in Africa, realized that our situation was hopeless.
At that moment, we saw a table beneath a canvas-roofed establishment marked with a poster of a bottle of beer. Most important, we saw that they had stock in a cold bucket. We entered to the surprise of the young woman, who up until then had probably never experienced three expats attempting to sit on her makeshift bench beside the street, and asking for a beer. From that moment on, one of the great beer experiences of my life unfolded. We were an attraction. Soon the corner bar was overwhelmed with onlookers. It turned into one of those occasions when the one common desire for cold beer transcended all thoughts and concerns. The stories, the fun, the camaraderie were all amazing. Eventually the traffic subsided, and everyone went on his way, but after that, on our way home, we regularly went back to that same table and that cold bucket of beer.
Did you know that next to water and tea, beer is the beverage most consumed by human beings across the globe? More that 200 billion liters are consumed each year.
Never has beer, and the enjoyment of beer, been more diverse, more active than it is today. Even as traditional beer markets are declining, new, emerging markets are growing, along with innovative brands and fabulous craft brewers developing everywhere.
I read a document recently from one of the brewers’ associations, which classified over 140 different styles of beer. I know this is growing, and with so much diversity, and so many amazing fantastic tastes, the world of beer has never been more exciting.
As an adorer of great beers, I have found that experiencing great beers is more than just the beer itself. We must have a great bar, a place where it just feels right. Whether it may be a street bar, a high-end, five-star, state-of-art bar, or an iconic, history-laden pub, it just has to have something magic about it. Then we need a great bartender, a bartender who knows how to craft and serve a beer so that looks absolutely gorgeous in every way—because it is with our eyes that first savor our beer.
Only then do we take pleasure in our reward, when all the wonderful flavors and textures awaken our senses and bring to life the beer, a refreshing experience that enhances life’s journey.