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AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2000 » BACK TO HOPVINE INDEX
 
HEARD IT THROUGH THE HOPVINE
Eat, Drink and Be Murree Dept.: The country with the lowest number of breweries per capita surely must be Pakistan. The mostly nondrinking Muslim population numbers some 142 million with only one brewery. Established in 1861 by British colonialists to keep the troops smiling in the heat, the Murree Brewery Co. Ltd. has had some marketing challenges over the years, to be sure. When Pakistan was created by partitioning in 1947, the brewery survived in spite of an extraordinary quagmire of rules and opposition from religious fundamentalists that continually threaten the existence of the brewing operation. Non-Muslim residents (only 3 percent of the population) who wish to purchase alcoholic beverages must fill out a detailed application for a permit stating religion, profession, annual income, drinking history (that could take some of us the better part of an afternoon to complete!) and a husband or father’s name. (A letter from a priest is no longer required, Allah be praised.) Then, a prohibition officer will determine your monthly quota. One woman was asked if she was a “drunk.” When she replied no, she was authorized to buy one unit a month (a case of beer or one bottle of spirits). Upon renewal of her permit, she replied “yes” to the drunk question and was allocated six units a month. Progress. Meanwhile, the brewery, now also producing out of Austria to get around the no-export rule in Pakistan, was recently voted one of the country’s top 25 companies by the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce for its $5.6 million in revenues and strong performance on the Karachi stock exchange. The beer is popular with U.K. expats, probably through slogans like “Have curry with Murree.” The brewery also has an eight-year-old malt whisky that is getting excellent reviews. And, a black market has developed for the brewery’s products through Christian and Hindu permit-holders who double the price to errant Muslims who order from these “distributors” via cell phones for door-to-door delivery. Strange brew, indeed…

As to the question of which state has the most breweries per capita, the Institute for Brewing Studies in Boulder, Colo., did the math and came up with the following top five: Alaska is in first place, with 18 breweries and a population of only 619,500, for a one to 34,417 ratio. Second is Vermont, followed by Maine, Wyoming and Colorado (with 93 breweries and 4,056,133 thirsty Coloradoans). Canadian beer philosopher Steve Beaumont wags the maple leaf flag a bit, suggesting that if we consider state/province/territory with the greatest number of breweries per capita, the winner is … the Yukon! “With 30,766 residents and one brewery, I'll leave it to you to do the math.” Thanks, Steve…

Add to that the 22-year-old “Great Klondike International Outhouse Race and Bathroom Wall Limerick Contest,” and Yukon see the sophisticated culture rampant in them parts. The names of previous winners of the mobile outhouse races include: the Elton John, the Whizzer of Oz and the Mad Crapper of Rat River. This sort of thing should keep the Yukon’s one brewery quite busy…

Battle of the Belge Dept.: On a recent visit to New York, I had the occasion to visit Belgo, the Belgian food and beer emporium on Lafayette Street in Lower Manhattan. Days earlier, I had visited the Oland Technical Center in Vancouver, B.C. — Labatt’s training facility for retailers and pub owners — and could appreciate the company’s dedication to expert beer service. Obviously, Belgo benefited from the service standards formulated by parent company Interbrew NV. World Beer Cup gold-medal-winning brewer Marty Velas and I tried to taste our way through most of the amazing Belgian beer list, relying on the delicious mussels for sustenance. The equally requisite pomme frites (French fries, y’all) were something of a disappointment — bland and soggy and served with (gasp!) store-bought mayonnaise and catsup. Sacre bleu! A visit to Bruxelles Belgian Bistro a few days later in the East Village found the place unchanged from my first experience years ago when foodie maven Jim Leff (chowhound.com) introduced me to the place. It still has an amazing list of bottled Belgian beers (alas, none of the wonderfully fresh draught beers like those at Belgo), an extensive and authentic menu and fabulously delicious pomme frites that were twice-fried, crispy with soft centers and served with handmade mayonnaise with herbs. C’est magnifique!

Have you seen the new commercials on TV for Heineken cans shaped like beer kegs? The impression given is that keg beer is superior to canned beer, so beer in cans shaped like kegs is somehow better. Hmmm… Kegs are stainless steel and cans are aluminum, no matter what the shape. Ultimately, it's what you put in the can that determines quality…

There’s a slogan in the wine industry that goes, “Kiss French, Drink American!” I think it’s said tongue in cheek…

The president of Maytag's major appliance division is William L. Beer! Does Fritz Maytag know about this???

Buzz Beer Dept.: The term used at major beer festivals for the “must try” beers favored by the cognoscenti is “buzz” beer (not to be confused with Buzz Beer from Drew Carey’s TV show of the same name). At last year’s Oregon Brewers Festival, the “buzz” had beer lovers lining up for Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard (which was first to run out Friday and Saturday). Given the pre-buzz on beers to be poured at this year’s OBF, be sure to check out Widmer’s Cherry Bomb! Great name and, at over 8% abv, should be approached with caution and respect. There will be, of course, lots of other great beers at OBF. Two promising ones are Snoqualmie Falls Millennium Madness Tripel and Rogue’s Incinerator Doppelbock, a smoked lager! (Incinerator! Get it?) Get thee to Portland and, if you don’t like the buzz, make some of your own!

 

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