One of my hobbies, as regular readers will know, is collecting, sampling and drinking premium gins. Having got into this in a big way I was somewhat mortified to learn the other week that one of the principal ingredients of the hooch, the juniper berry, is under attack. Bushes in Scotland and England have been spotted with the fungus, phytophthora austrocedrae, which attacks the roots and creates a lesion on the plants. Eventually it cuts through the bark of the bush (known as girdling) and kills it.
The fungus was first described scientifically in Argentina in 2007 but was probably there for a good half century. How it has hopped to the U.K is not clear but it may have spread as a result of infected plant material or contaminated soil.
Most UK gin manufacturers use berries from Eastern Europe which, so far, have been unaffected so I won’t have to stockpile my gins. But given the rapidity with which the fungus has spread from Argentina to Blighty, it might only be a matter of time.
If this wasn’t bad enough, another favourite tipple of mine, Belgian bottled beers, are also having a tough time. It is not disease this time but unusually warm night time temperatures which are disrupting the brewing process. The type of Belgian beer known as Lambic – the base for such delights as Geuze and Kriek – ferments spontaneously in wooden vats, producing a flat, sour liquid. Traditionally, the fermentation mixture was left to cool in the open so that it was infused naturally with the wild yeasts present in the air and ideally required temperatures of -3 to -8 celsius.
Warmer temperatures mean that the brewing period has been truncated, reducing supplies and imperilling their business model. Too much more of this will mean we will all be up the creek.
And then there is Guinness. I drink the stuff when there is nothing more attractive on offer but I find its taste not unpleasant. But after 256 years of production the company has announced that from some time in 2016 it will stop using fish bladders, known as isinglass, in their filters. Whilst most of the isinglass is filtered out during the brewing process, there are still traces of the fish bladders in the finished product. Whether this change will alter the taste at all only time will tell but, perhaps, the corporate sees some money to be made from capturing the vegetarian market.
All this is enough to turn you to booze. Cheers!