Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Getting serious

Now, a number of people have noticed that the 40b40 donations page is not exactly overflowing with support at the moment. Sure, it's early days -- the event doesn't actually start until January -- but still, it would be encouraging to see a bit more activity there. So, I have two plans...

First, I will offer rewards for the second, third and fourth people who donate to Ovarian Cancer Action through the 40b40 donations page. (Too late to be the first.) The prize is: these people will get to choose the first, second and third Belgian beers I will drink in the first three days of the 40b40 project: 8, 9 & 10 January. You could choose anything you want from the current list on the left-hand side of this blog.

Second -- as if you needed more -- I will appoint a fund-raising specialist to help me with the donations for Ovarian Cancer Action. Nominations greatly appreciated...

Saturday, 24 November 2007

New research tools

While I was doing permanent damage to my spine, wrist and ankles at the ice rink with our eldest, Fiona and our youngest went downtown and bought me a fantastic book for my birthday: Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium. Combined with the book my Trappist and Regional Brewery Analyst lent me yesterday, 52 brasseries coups de cœur en Belgique, I am now settling down to some serious research here.

This week’s Corsendonk crisis really got me thinking: 40 is just too small a number to do justice to the incredible variety of Belgian beer. Our solution of using “brewery days” is some help, but still, there will be so many tastes and experiences I will be missing. Even just a quick flip through these books is enlightening and humbling at the same time. I mean, I knew there were a lot of different Belgian beers, but whoa...

There’s one beer called “Deus” which seems more champagne than beer. It even comes in a champagne bottle and is shipped over to Reims for bottling and maturation. When you learn that, its full name, “Deus Brut des Flandres”, seems wholly appropriate. It is brewed by the same outfit that makes Kwak and Tripel karmeliet, the Bosteels brewery So, that’s going to one serious “brewery day”, for sure.

In other news, we had a successful test of the emergency brewcasting system on Thursday, linking me up with the Generalissimo of the American Small Brewers Liberation Front at an undisclosed location in New England. This communications system will allow simultaneous, video-linked beer tasting at various points during the 40-day period. I’ve already made arrangements to link up with fellow drinkers in the U.S., the Netherlands and New Zealand. Working on others, too. Let me know if you’d like to join in on any particular day with any particular beer, and we’ll work you into the schedule.

40b40 start date set

We’ve decided to hold the 40-day drinking project between 8 January and 16 February 2008. There will be a launch day on Tuesday, 8 January, so mark your calendars, please. Also, every Thursday will be an open session at a pub in the Châtelain area of Ixelles, Brussels, which we'll announce as we get closer to the time. All are welcome to take part in the festivities and drink that day’s beer with me -- though this should not be interpreted as an offer to buy everyone’s beers every week!

We still haven’t decided which beers will be consumed on which days, but we’re working on it. Need to co-ordinate schedules of various co-drinkers around the world, so it’s trickier than it sounds.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The “Brewery Day” Solution

The long-awaited results of last night’s talks to resolve the painful “Corsendonk Crisis” can now be revealed. The 40b40 movement has just released the following declaration:

Whereas the number of beers on the initial draft list was in excess of 40;

Whereas the beers of the Corsendonk brewery were dangerously absent from the list; and

Whereas several other important Belgian beers were not represented,

Be it resolved that beers from the same brewery will fall under special “brewery days”, when:

a) one or more beers of the same brand will be sampled;

b) no brand will occupy more than one of the 40 days; and

c) there will be no obligation to sample more than one of that day’s brand.

With this decision, the new draft list of 40 beers which follows is incomplete at 32, so eight beers or brewery days will be added, as will the particular days for each beer.

1 Afligem
2 Augustijn
3 Barbar (Honey Ale)
4 Brugge tripel
5 “Chimay Day”
6 “Ciney Day”
7 “Corsendonk Day”
8 De verboden vrucht
9 “Delerium Day”
10 “Ename Day”
11 Florival blond
12 Gentse tripel
13 Grimbergen
14 Gulden draak
15 “Hoegaarden Day”
16 Kasteelbier blond
17 Kwak
18 La chouffe
19 “Leffe Day”
20 “Liefmans Day”
21 “Maredsous Day”
22 Oerbier
23 Orval
24 “Palm Day”
25 Petrus gouden tripel
26 Piraat amber
27 “Rochefort Day”
28 “Rodenbach Day”
29 Tripel karmeliet
30 Trolleke
31 “Westmalle Day”
32 “Westvleteren Day”

Corsendonk Crisis Update: 0041h

Marathon talks to resolve the Corsendonk Crisis have just broken up after six straight hours of tense negotiations. No official statement has been released, but we understand the parties have come to a settlement that will allow the 40b40 project to continue.

"We have agreed on a fundamental realignment of the list of 40 beers based on a 'brewery day' concept", said a source who refused to be named. "We hope to make the revised list public as soon as possible."

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Video wall of Belgian beer

As attention focuses on the start of the Corsendonk crisis talks, researchers at 40b40 have been busy looking into ways of presenting the drinking festivities when they begin in January. Some beers will certainly be consumed simultaneously in an international, multi-drinker online broadcast, and the team has found, not surprisingly, there's a great deal of Belgian beer drinking already on the internet. We have compiled some here in the 40b40 Belgian beer video wall:

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Corsendonk Crisis

Brussels:The 40b40 movement received a potentially damaging blow to its reputation at the weekend as “concerned supporters” protested the absence of two essential names from the project’s proposed list of beers.

Both Corsendonk Pater and Corsendonk Angus, two leading brews from the Corsendonk brewery, were not on the 40b40 list, leading to unrest even within the movement.

“As much as I respect both the project and the driving forces behind it, I have to voice my concern at the missing Corsendonk Pater and Corsendonk Agnus from your list”, demonstrators shouted in unison outside the gates of the 40b40 headquarters on Saturday. “I will be expecting to hear your arguments”, they raged.

Andrew, Competing Athlete for 40b40, could not initially be reached for comment but on Sunday said he had met with representatives of the dissenting group. He revealed that, as a goodwill measure ahead of planned crisis negotiations on Wednesday, he had provisionally added the two beers to the 40b40 group.

“I can confirm that both Corsendonk Pater and Corsendonk Agnus are now on the 40b40 list”, Andrew said, “but I must stress that the entire list remains in draft form. The final list of 40 beers will only be decided in December.”

Indeed, controversy had been brewing for some time, because the supposedly 40-beer list already had 44 brands on it before this weekend’s dispute brought it to 46. Now, with six beers needing to be cut, advocates are already pressing for their favourites to remain -- and threatening severe consequences if they fail to make the cut.

“If they drop Orval, I will pull my sponsorship of 40b40”, said one insider who asked not to be named.

Andrew said he was hopeful the issue over what many are now calling “The Corsendonk Two” could be resolved “within days”, but he refused to give an exact timeline for the final selection of the 40.

“We will meet on Wednesday and start with the issues we know we can agree on”, he said. “Then, we will move to more difficult points and see where we can find consensus.”

In a related development, the 40b40 project named Sebastien as its new Trappist and Regional Brewery Analyst. He is expected to join the crisis talks on 21 November.

Andrew refused to either confirm or deny rumours that the reason for his initial tardy response to the crisis was a direct consequence of his drinking of Dutch beers at the weekend.

“This is not something I am prepared to discuss within the confines of the 40b40 project, which is a purely Belgian matter”, he said, adding, “if extra-Belgian research was conducted, it was a personal matter of concern only to my family and me.”

This blog has learned, however, that Belgian investigators are now looking into whether a crime has been committed.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Ode to Belgium

One of the driving forces behind the "40 Beers at 40" project is to celebrate Belgium as it faces a... um... well, as it faces a very complex political crisis that, because I've only lived here for a little over four years, I really have only the faintest understanding of. Still, I like Belgium, and I want it to stick around for a bit.

You may ask why.

The beer itself is one reason. If Belgium splits, how will we ever be able to talk about, let alone drink, "Belgian beer"? The loss to humanity's gastronomic heritage would be severe and perhaps even irreplaceable.

Second, chocolate. Same reasoning.

Third, Belgium is wonderfully free of Belgian nationalism. Unlike a lot of other parts of Europe, no one here thinks people are somehow born into the nation. You never meet anyone beating his chest about the need to preserve Belgian blood. I've never met a even one rabid Belgianist skinhead. That's not only comforting as a foreigner living here but also just generally. If I remember my academic studies of the last century properly, I seem to recall that ethnic nationalism in Europe has been largely a crap idea. I'm sure there are a few history books you can read about this sort of thing if you are interested. Some of today's news from other parts of Europe will also attest to my "ethnic nationalism is largely a crap idea" theory.

But here in Belgium, things are different. No one stuffs this country up your nose. No one bangs a Belgian drum of war for anything. Up until very recently, in fact, it was hard to find any citizen who would even think of flying the national flag outside their home. Today many do as a protest at the current political impasse and the creeping threat of a national divorce, but it took the threat of the country actually falling apart to make this happen. It's just a country that's so laid back about itself.

Finally, there's a personal reason for backing Belgium, stemming from a weird feeling of déjà vu I have. We were living in Czechoslovakia when that country split. Now we're facing country carve-up number two. For my wife, it's not such a huge problem: she was living in Berlin when East and West Germany got back together, too, so at one break-up and one reunification, she's evens. But for me, if Belgium falls apart, I will be two for two in the minus column. I'll start thinking I'm possessed by some kind of geopolitical juju. And I'll have to move to Cyprus and then Korea, pressing hard in both for reunifying settlements just to get back to square one before I die.

So, to help me avoid that fate, I will drink Belgian beers for 40 days and thus contribute my small part to keeping this country together.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

First week review

OK, so, we are one week into the grand 40b40 effort -- the project of a mid-lifetime -- and already we have some impressive feedback. The 40b40 Facebook group has 30 members. About 60 people visited this blog in its first few days. Not a bad start considering not one beer has been drunk yet.

Comments coming in have been broadly positive. About the only critcism was that 40 days was too long for drinking 40 beers. "You should do it in 20", said one supporter.

There has been some discussion of the recommended donation rates, too. I have spent some time working through what exactly is a crap job and what is a good job with several people, but ultimately, it is a self-evaluation. And more importantly, any donation would be welcome, so let's not get hung up on the numbers.

Perhaps the biggest threat to my goal of drinking 40 different Belgian beers is that Belgium itself may fall apart before I finish. The country may indeed hold on, but there are now side bets among 40b40 supporters as to whether I'll complete my quest before or after Belgium has a new government. Well, let's not rush them -- elections were only last June after all.

Speaking of elections, after more than 150 days of difficult negotiations between the parties, the 40b40 project has named its first official Chief Brewmaster. He is Jean-Christophe Hoste, who used a range of personal connections to help formulate the current list of 44 beers from the hundreds this country has to offer. (44 because we've still got four alternates -- we're still working on which beers will be consumed on which dates.) Thanks, JC.

Others have asked, "What can I do to help?" Well, apart from donating and joining me for a drink, you could tell your friends and colleagues. Please send around the link to this 40 Beers at 40 blog or the Facebook group page. The more the merrier.

Monday, 5 November 2007

40b40 now on Facebook

I just started a Facebook group for 40 Beers at 40, and in the time it took to write this blog entry, it already has a couple members. At this rate, I'll have 34,560 members by the time I start drinking the beer in January...

Saturday, 3 November 2007

40 Beers at 40: The Basics

This blog originally started as a way to mark my 40th birthday and make some money for charity. Below is the kick-off posting from November 2007...

* * * * * * *

As I turn 40, and thus officially middle-aged, it seems a good time for some determined reflection on what life means and how I should spend my remaining two score years. Instead, I am going to drink beer. But it’s for a good cause...

Indeed, I will mark my 40 years by drinking 40 beers over 40 days. And for charity, no less.

Now, the point is not to get bladdered every night for six weeks straight. No. The goal is to move through 40 select beers, one per day, write some tasting notes and other observations in this daily blog, and raise some money for a good cause.

Beer is the focus because I live in Belgium, home of the world’s best variety of great beers, including some incredibly weird ones. And as this poor country may be about to split, I see this as my vote for keeping it together, in the name of a brilliant brewing tradition if nothing else. In addition, I'd like to think of this as a timely tribute to Michael Jackson, the great beer connoisseur who unfortunately died a couple months ago.

So, I am looking for sponsors for this 40-day charity event. The donations will go to Ovarian Cancer Action, and I’ve even set up an online donation page to make it easy for everyone. Of course, none of the money is going to my malted habit -- I’m buying the beers myself -- but you might want to sponsor me on a symbolic “per beer” basis. Here are some suggested giving levels based on the four general economic categories of people I know:

Occupation: lab animals, NGO interns
Per beer donation (€): 0.10
Total donation (€): 4.00

Occupation: people with crap jobs
Per beer donation (€): 0.50
Total donation (€): 20.00

Occupation: people with good jobs
Per beer donation (€): 1.00
Total donation (€): 40.00

Occupation: people too wealthy to work
Per beer donation (€): 2.00
Total donation (€): 80.00

If you're not sure what category you fall under, just get in touch, and I can advise.

And your support need not be simply financial. I hope to indulge in this charity work with others, drinking many of these fine beers with friends and family, both those living in Belgium and those who will be passing through -- and even in absentia through virtual link ups around the world.

The festivities begin in January, on or near my birthday, the 14th, but you can start donating now...