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Dave I
06/29/07 12:04 AM  
Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
A Unibroue spokesperson/marketing guy was nice enough to come and talk to my homebrew club about a week ago. We got to try seven samples, which were nice. I think I liked the La Fin du Monde and the Maudite the best. Really nice beer, and the spokesperson was nice enough; very business-like and professional. As you may have guessed, there is a "but."

I was a bit put-off by the ongoing sales pitch. I know he is there to sell a product, but it was like he was . . . Scratch that, he was definitely trying to mystify their brewing procedure. He was preaching to the choir with his anti-BMG rant, noting how they do not do very well in blind taste tests. I believe that. However, making the implied suggestion we should drink microbrews, Belgians beer and the like openly at bars to somehow make create some peer pressure for others to be cool and drink better beer was a bit much. Exposing people to other things, perhaps being passionate if they will lend you an ear, sure. Making the local bar scene into a clicky, high school mentality setting, only for La Fin du Monde instead of Miller "Lite", perhaps the most illiterate of the light American Lagers? No thanks. I am not a billboard; I drink Belgians because they taste good, not so I can start some trend amongst light beer aficionados.

That aside, here is my problem. As much as he boasted about Unibroue being the first North American brewer to make authentic Trappist style ales, he had some interesting perspectives on how Belgians brew. He acted like there was some Illuminati-esque aura about brewing Belgians. He mentioned only the finest grains go into their beer, and they use some "special" priming sugar. When I asked if they brewed with sugar, all the while thinking how actual Belgian-made Trappists are made with what is basically the equivalent of table sugar, he all but blew me off saying how they "let the grains be the paint brush" in their brew. Which I think is supposed to mean no, they do not use sugar. But seriously? The grains are the paint brush? In a TRIPEL???!!!! He then promptly continued with his well-rehearsed spiel, but I was a bit blown away by this.

My other issue is that he was quick to brag about how Unibroue uses six yeasts (in different brews, or blended into one house-blend for all the beers, I am not sure) like that somehow made them special and everything else inferior for using maybe two or three, and God forbid a lowly one, strain of yeast. I cannot deny they make good beer with their paintbrush-grain approach, their apparent disdain for sugar, and their six yeasts. But Westmalle makes a pretty good Tripel with Pilsner Malt, sugar, and ONE yeast. As a homebrewer who, like thousands of others (if not more), has read Brew Like a Monk, it was sort of laughable and very much insulting being spoken about brewing a Tripel like it was some sort of secret mystery guarded by some sort of beer cult fanatics.

Please do not let this deter you from trying Unibroue beer. It is very good. Swirl the yeast into the beer, pour into a nice glass, sip, smell, and enjoy. It is really great stuff, I will give them that. But why do they feel the need to shroud their beer in mystery and shadows? If they cannot/will not tell us as homebrewers any details for whatever reason, that is their prerogative I suppose. But I was more than a little annoyed that my serious question was turned into a sales pitch and that he felt a need to turn Belgian brewing into some sort of obfuscated art that requires the use of special ingredients, even down to the "special priming sugar."

Unibroue, give me a break.


06/29/07 08:15 AM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
well crafted.

I have to say that I'm underwhelmed by Uniboue in general.

I too enjoy Maudite and trois pistoles, but they're certainly not shrouded in mystery.

06/29/07 12:03 PM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
Dave, I guess it goes to show you that, as nice as Unibroue was to send somebody to you're club, marketeers are of little value when descibing anything of substance. Their job is to sell (which of course can well include mystifying), not know what the brewer knows.
Sean White
06/29/07 01:40 PM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
Obfuscate: I love that word! I've been thinking about it this week for some reason.

What he's really obfuscating is his general lack of knowledge as to the brewery's actual brewing practices. That's a common problem when beer reps come to talk to a room full of brewers. They try though, or at least most of them do.

Compounded with that is Unibroue's undoubtedly miserly reputation towards their secrets. I've emailed them some questions about their yeast, and gotten a "we can't tell you" response. But like you say, that's their prerogative.

Funny though, how most of the really great brewers that we respect are more than generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge. Others guard it so tightly, you'd wonder what they were afraid of.

06/29/07 02:17 PM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
Elaborating on your last two sentences Sean, at the NHC Vinnie brought a box filled with loads of little baggies filled with wood chips made from one of his barrels. Anyone who wanted some could just take - I took 6. Its awesome the info he'll give like in that .PPT, but he even gives you the physical means to attempt what he does!
matt dinges
06/29/07 06:34 PM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
Hi Dave,

I'm curious where you are located? I've heard some similar stuff about a Unibroue rep that appeared in Nebraska when they launched here. He didn't really know anything about the beer, but made a bunch of sales rep sort of speeches and "claims"...that of course came back to the fact that they are the best, most special brewery in the world. A number of my homebrewing friends were quite put off by him, and told me they wish I would have been there to give him a good "education." They also said he wasn't able to answer basic questions. That paint brush comment is hilarious. I've sat here and kept wondering what the hell it is supposed to mean. Seems like a piece of an incomplete analogy that he probably heard from somebody else.

I work in sales for high end beer, but I try very hard to simply present people with the beers and talk about them on a level that makes sense. I hate "claims."

Two nights ago I was doing a tasting with a lot of very unique beers, especially for Nebraska. It was fun trying to explain Flemish Primitive, Fantome, Blaugies, De Ranke, and Bam Bier to people. I'm much more interested in talking about the taste of the beers when I present them. But sometimes, you do need to explain "why" to people.

Homebrewers always want to know specifics about the process(the recipe mostly), but even though I've been a homebrewer for 8 years I don't feel comfortable speaking for the brewers themselves. If I don't know something, I'll simply say I don't know. I can offer people basic insights into the general brewing process, and I can talk about how the physical brewery and creative expression of a brewer like Fantome seep into the bottle somebody is drinking. But often, specific process or ingredients questions are tough to answer. Of course, in my case, I represent dozens of breweries and over 100 beers, so its pretty tough to be able to answer questions like that about every brewery. Brewery reps like the one you met represent ONE brewery, and should have a good understanding of what goes on there.

What's worse than not knowing is making stuff up... "special priming sugar" I can't tell if that is marketing speak or ignorance. Maybe a bit of both!

The fact is, Fantome (or Russian River) warrants being obfuscated if anybody does. Unibroue doesn't. That's complete marketing. They are a big corporate brewer. Its fun seeing these big brewers try to act like they have some secret insight into brewing...trying to latch onto that "little artisan" appearance.



06/29/07 08:38 PM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
>>That paint brush comment is hilarious. I've sat here and kept wondering what the hell it is supposed to mean.<<

If you can't bedazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Brian Richards
06/30/07 02:22 AM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
Sounds like they sent a salesperson to do a mans job. I really like a lot of there beers, especially the 16. It's too bad that they had that guy come and talk to your homebrew club instead of someone who is just passionate about brewing and can ad lib about brewing rather than someone who had to rehearse the night before so he wouldn't sound like a dummy.
Dave I
06/30/07 09:54 AM  
Re: Unibroue: Countdown to BS in T-minus 10 . .
Hey Matt, I am in Wisconsin. The guy has allegedly been doing this a long time for Unibroue, and seems passionate about Unibroue and microbrews. I think he knew what he was talking about, and was just trying to convince us that Unibroue uses not only great ingredients, but the best of the best. It was still BS, but I got the impression he had his sales pitch down and did not want the superiority of his company's product. This is just my opinion, but I think he had the idea that if he said "yeah, we use beet sugar, just like pretty much every other authentic Belgian or Trappist Ale" that we would have scoffed at sugar. I was inquiring (although I never got the chance to expand on it) whether they use the Belgian Dark Candi Syrup in their darker brews or rely on dark crystal/caramel malts such as Special B like other American brewers of Belgian beers, and also how they got their Trippels so light in color/body if they did not use sugar (e.g. lower or multiple-step mash procedures, etc.).

The other annoying thing he did, which I am sure is a sales/marketing technique, is when he went around the room to ask us what our favorites were, I did not remember the names (I forgot to take notes and was not expecting a quiz) so he told me the names of the beers. However, he seemed to have this condescending tone, like calling La Fin du Monde a "Tripel" was some kind of slight. I felt like I were in a Class A restaurant and asked for a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and the French waiter with a thin mustache bristled and said "Ve do not have a 'Cabernet' we have vintage 1995 from se best vineyards in France, and only sell them by se bottle." It was that same kind of condescending attitude, as if I should know all of his beers by name. I do not mind that he verified the beers I was talking about. I mind that he acted like an adult correcting, maybe even chastising, a child he felt was stupid and maybe did not like all that much.

I DO like some of their beer, but their sales person was kind of a douche, at least in terms of trying to make his product seem EXTRA special. And screw him, Westmalle, Delirium Tremens, and Achouffe all make perfectly wonderful Tripels with sugar and one, two at most, yeast strains without needing to market some magical sugar they use to prime their beer with.


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