Professor explores the meaning of beerAnd you thought beer in college just meant keg stands and drinking games at frat parties. Charlie Bamforth truly brings the world of barley malt and hops to higher learning. He holds the title of Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California, Davis.
By: Chris Macias, McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
And you thought beer in college just meant keg stands and drinking games at frat parties. Charlie Bamforth truly brings the world of barley malt and hops to higher learning. He holds the title of Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California, Davis.
The England native teaches more than 1,000 students each year about the finer points of brewing and the science behind all those suds. Bamforth was also featured in the October issue of Playboy magazine in its honor roll of the country's top 20 professors and dubbed "brewmaster general."
Bamforth recently released a new book, "Beer Is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing" (FTPress, $25.99, 304 pages). Wine Buzz caught up with Bamforth in a phone call to talk about his new book and all things beer. Here's what the brewmaster general had to say:
Q: How does your new beer book differ from the many others you've written?
A: The other ones are either about the science or the ins and outs of beer. This one gets under the skin of it and gets personal. I'm blending in some personal views.
I talk about beer and the different types of companies, and if they get too big and what that means. And that goes all the way through to the small guys, the craft guys, who are sometimes unrealistic and unfair about attacking the big guys.
The fundamental message is beer is a wonderful thing and there's a beer for you. Not everyone likes a gently flavored beer, or an intense beer, but it's all OK.
Q: So if beer is proof that God loves us, does that apply to Pabst Blue Ribbon?
A: It could, absolutely! Some people expect me to rubbish the big guy, but that's not fair. What they do is brew on a big scale, but they're still brewing the raw materials. It may not be much to your taste, but that doesn't mean it's bad.
Q: Do you have concerns that the increasing consolidation of beer companies could result in a homogenization of flavors?
A: I understand the point that's being made and the risk if you have very big companies controlling a large amount of the world's beer. The reality is these companies have tremendous product-development programs and continue putting out new types of beer.
It's a case of: What do people want to drink? Just because something is loaded with flavor doesn't always make it better. Good beer, in my opinion, is balanced. It may be balanced with low intensity of flavor, or balanced with lots of malt and lots of hops. When it's out of balance, that's the problem.
Q: In the wine world, you always hear people gush about that first bottle that made them fall in love with wine. Do you have a beer equivalent of that?
A: For me personally, it was a beer style — traditional English cask ale. I start in the book going back to the pubs of my youth. It wasn't just about the beer. It was the experience, the location. It was the atmosphere, the conviviality and the warmth of the pub. My senses weren't being distracted with loud noises and games and such. Beer was at the heart of it, but it was a peaceful and pleasurable and holistic experience.
Q: There's been a rise in interest with beer-and-food pairings, and even beer-themed dinners. Can you pass along some food-pairing tips?
A: What you've got to avoid are glaring contrasts. You don't want a really robust beef dish with a gently flavored lager. You'll want to complement with something that'll stand up and reinforce. If you're going to have a nice salad, clearly you'd start with lighter lager that would go down quite nicely. A steak would go with a pale ale, or even a bock. I might have some nice pudding for dessert, and a stout would go along with that nicely.
Q: How's the reaction been to you being in Playboy?
A: When Playboy first contacted me and said they wanted to include me, I got ahold of our press office, and they said, "Hmm, we're not so sure about that."
But when Playboy told me who else was going to be featured and we all thought about it, I said, "Hell yeah." The recognition was nice — and it gave me some street cred. (Laughs)
Q: The book's title talks about a search for the soul of beer. Do you feel you've found it?
A: I think I'm going in that direction. Beer, to my mind, is a product that we can delight in, and it can be a part of a mindful existence. Like anything else, it can be abused, and it equally would be unfair of people to seek to deny others the pleasure of beer.
I do a lot of reading about Buddhism, and I'm coming to terms with the edict of, "Thou shall not get associated with alcoholic beverages." So, perhaps I have a ways to go. But, beer can be a wonderful part of a lifestyle and deserves to be treated with more respect.
Q: Assuming you make it to heaven, what beer do you hope is waiting for you?
A: One that's wet and alcoholic. What I'm fond of saying about beer is I want one that suits the location. So, if I'm sitting on a cloud, I'll want something nice and warming.