Organic beer, barbecue, and Beethoven


One of the things I do, as a concert producer, is to explore themes that will make a successful concert. I talk to people with ideas, musicians with music they want to play, and guests that support our monument concerts. A single, unifying theme is powerful.

In London, I felt the effect on the community at the “Purple Piano Party” where everyone had to wear purple, bring something purple (or that which started with the letter P) to eat or drink, and play music with the word purple in it.

What do beer and live classical music have in common?

Nothing.

I know two classical guitarists that love the kind of high alcohol-content beer that is brewed on this side of the Atlantic. I’ve gone with them to Belgium this past summer on an insane quest for the best abbey beer. We trekked to Ghent for abbey ales and back to Holland to scoop up the remaining 6 euro bottles stocked in the few exclusive shops their guitar builder knew of. It was an arduous journey to learn about beer and why one guitarist wanted 46 bottles to take back to America. The other just wanted to brew better beer from home.

Until this three-day trip, I associated beer with a bubbly cold drink one drank at fraternity parties at college. It was the cheaper choice, between wine and beer. It was the safe choice, if you didn’t want to show your ignorance of wine. It was for men. I preferred cocktails, kir royale, rose, champagne, and Irish coffee.

My views changed further this afternoon when I joined seven others on a tour of a local brewery near my home in Utrecht, Netherlands. I had hoped to see beers being made and beers being bottled. Instead, the most interesting part of the tour was the tasting — at the end.

The Dutch brewery, native to Utrecht, makes 10 different kinds of organic and biological beers. Each one has an interesting story. The strong wheat beer “Paulus” was named after the abbey in which an ancient, secret recipe was discovered. Another beer was named after the one and only Dutch pope who died in office.

Our guide told us that people used to drink beer when tap water was not safe or available to drink. Even pregnant women drank the low-alcohol beer. The difference between the beers brewed today and back then was the water. Back then, breweries used water from the canals and rivers.

In those two hours, I learned about beer. I also observed how relaxed the atmosphere was. The stories were fascinating. I had a thousand questions.

Isn’t this the kind of atmosphere I want at our concerts? How can we deliver classical music in a way that feels like beer tasting?

Beer goes well with barbecue. I wonder what kind of beer Beethoven drank? I invited the brewery to set up a biological beer bar at our next house concert when the hot weather returns. Few people in Utrecht are aware that these local beers are marketed to the rest of the world. The brewery is only a cycle ride away — not a car journey to another country.

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