Australian Craft Brewers Conference: Dr Charlie Bamforth

Dr. Charlie Bamforth was the keynote speaker for this years Australian Craft Brewers Conference and gave a wonderfully engaging and interesting talk.

In introducing Dr. Charlie Bamforth as the keynote speaker for this year’s Australian Craft Brewers Conference in Adelaide, Pete Mitcham wisely opted to forego the long introduction, allowing for more time for us to hear from the man himself, the Distinguished Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at UC Davis and basically THE expert when it comes to beer.

“Brewers should pull in the same direction,”

Whether you’re a brewer in a large or small brewery much of the concerns are the same, Charlie said, those concerns around the ingredients and the quality of your beer.

The quality of your beer, Charlie emphasised, isn’t dependent on brewers alone but every single person in the brewery. “Everybody is important,” he said and that it was “critical” for a brewery to look after their people and to ensure they are trained, happy and proud to be part of the brewery family.

“Intensely flavoured or not, balance is the key,”

Another key to the quality of your beer, Charlie said, is consistency and balance and that quality isn’t necessarily about the complexity of flavour.

When asked, “what is a good beer?” Charlie says he responds with “I have no idea.” Perhaps you’d expect a far more complicated answer from someone with the words “distinguished Professor” in their title but he simply says, “what’s good for you may not be good for me.” Beer is subjective and no-one should be criticised for their choice of beer, whether it’s craft or not.

“Beer is to be celebrated. Beer drinkers should be celebrated, they do not need to be insulted,”

The current trend of hazy IPAs, otherwise known as New England IPAs, is not Charlie’s preferred choice but it doesn’t change the fact it sells and people like it so, Charlie said, “who is to say they are wrong? They’re not wrong as long as there’s a market for it.”

“I think it should be a fair playing field,”

Whilst saying clearly he did not think there was anything wrong with a small brewery being purchased by a large one, Charlie felt it should be “transparent” so consumers know where the ownership lies.

“The craft industry keeps seeking to go to extremes,”

Maybe the beer industry could learn something from the wine guys when it comes to celebrating their raw ingredients. Crazy ingredients like oysters or chilli and other pushing-the-boundaries additions are great but, Charlie commented, “we have so much to celebrate in the basic raw materials” and whilst wine has been doing a great job in making grapes the hero of their industry perhaps we in the beer world should be making more noise about ours too.

Charlie’s comments popped back into my head when Dr. Ina Verstl, the editor of Brauwelt International who spoke after Charlie, quoted a statistic that said 88 percent of people in Australia didn’t know what ingredients are in beer.

“Do you want a glass?”

Charlie recalled ordering a beer at a restaurant recently and the waitperson asked if he wanted a glass. “Why do you ask?” Charlie replied. “Cause we don’t have very many glasses and we don’t want to run out,” she said.

Now imagine he had ordered a wine.

That conversation wouldn’t have happened.

This short interaction highlighted the huge differences between the perception of beer and wine in restaurant experiences in general. Whilst wine has a sense of theatre around it, most of the time beer doesn’t even get a glass.

“Beer should be put into a glass, admired and looked at and celebrated.”

The Australian Craft Brewers Conference continues today and then Craft Beer Awards are held tonight at Adelaide Oval, stay tuned to the girlplusbeer Twitter feed for the results (mostly) live.