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Friday morning musings

I might be exaggerating, and if that is the case, I apologise beforehand, but some things that I've lately read here and there, wich together with a few e-mails I've received these days, have started to give me the impression that there are not few brewers who are making styles instead of beer and, what's even worse, they seem to make them so they can participate in competitions.

The other day the magazine All About Beer, published an article titled "Rediscovering Pils". A pretty good piece, until the last page (electronic version) where once again we are served the bollocks of "Imperial Pils" (and even Double Pils is mentioned), a new pseudo style that is actually not that new. As I often do with stuff I find interesting, I linked this article on my Facebook page, making my opinion about this style nonsense very clear.

But there was someone who came out in defense of all this, a micro brewer from Argentina, who said:
"The thing is that if I make a lager with 8-9% ABV and more than 50IBU's, for example, there is no category where I can compete, who can I compare it with? What references do I have? As we, brewers, experiment and try things out, styles are adjusted o new styles are created. This is important only when it comes to competitions..."
Even though Ron Pattison and others have shown that style guidelines aren't really necessary for a serious competition, the truth is that, whether we like it or not, the categories of most competitions these days are put together based on such style guidelines, usually from the BJCP. It's a fact and there's little point arguing about it here, but can these competitions really be used as a reference as this brewer claims?

In a competition beers are evaluated in conditions that are far from those the beers are usually consumed and according to certain more or less well defined parameters. It doesn't matter how tasty, interesting, balanced, etc. a beer can be, if the judges consider that it doesn't fit within those parameters, they won't let it compete.

When I wrote him an e-mail to congratulate him for his superb Don Toto Barley Wine, Gerardo Fiorotto, its creator, told me that after tasting it, a judge told him that Don Toto was actually an Old Ale, rather than a Barley Wine (as if there actually was any difference) What would have happened if Gerardo had presented Don Toto in a competition as Barley Wine, just as he understands it? Or what would be the judges' reaction if presented with any of those several less than 4% ABV IPA's that several British brewers are making?

So, and answering the question above, no, I don't believe a competition can be used as a realistic reference for the beers you make.

If you are a brewer and you want to compare your beer with other similar ones, the best you can do is to get a few samples of said beers and drink (not just taste) them one by one, just like any other consumer would do, better still if you can do it with a friend or an associate. A 0.1l sample might be good enough to technically evaluate a beer, but to really know how good a beer is, you have to actually drink it.

As I've said before, I understand very well why brewers like taking part in competitions, but I believe we have a problem when a brewer wants to satisfy a judge rather than the consumer.

Na Zdraví!

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. If I remember rightly it was Martyn Cornell that wrote an excellent piece on the difference between barleywine and old ale - ie, there isn't one.

    I agree entirely that the "Imperial Pilsner" is a complete sham of a bullshit style, especially when you look at the guidelines and realise that many of them would pretty much be an over hopped doppelbock or similar.

    Even as I homebrewer, I don't make beer to satisfy a judge, I make it so I can get drunk at home on something I know I will like. If it happens to do well in a competition then that is a bonus.

  3. Yes, it was Martyn and it's linked, actually.

    What bothered me the most about the mention of the Imperial Pils thing is that the author of that otherwise very interesting article doesn't call the brewes out on their bollocks nor does he even mentions that strong pale lagers are something that has existed for a long time here, but then again it's no surprise that the Brewers Association and, maybe, also the BJCP have accepted Imperial Pilsner as a new style, after all the only Czech style they have listed is "Bohemian Pilsner Lager" that, if I remember correctly has a range of 11 to 14º Plato! And they believe Bock and Dopplebcok are styles.

  4. The BJCP Guidelines don't have a separate category for "Imperial Pilsner", neither do the Brewers Association at the moment, as far as I am aware.

    The BCJP description of "Bohemian Pilsner" does allow for gravities from 11-14 Plato, which both you and I know is kind of daft. Pilsner, properly understood, is 12 degrees.

    Personally I think if you are going to have geographically based styles, and guidelines, on things like BJCP/Ratebeer and so on, then you have to be faithful to the local understanding of a beer. So a Czech lager category would divide by vycepni/lezak/special and by colour, not forgetting of course the porter category for dark lagers over 18 (or was it 19) degrees.

    The biggest problem with guidelines is too many people making beers they have never had in situ and not actually knowing what they are doing. It is amazing the number of times I have had people tell me that their "pilsner" doesn't have the "traditional European skunkiness" and then be crestfallen when I tell them that is a flaw as a result of pasteurisation and excessive transport.

  5. "(as if there actually was any difference)" is an invalid link (which I assume is supposed to go to Martyn's post).

  6. dave, thanks for pointing that out, it's been corrected.

    Al, actually, Pilsner Urquell is an 11º, and has been so for a very, very long time, according to some historical charts I've seen in one of Ron's pages, but that's me being pedantic. Světlý Ležák is 11-12.99. And Porter is 18º minimum. (Incidentally, in Slovakia all beers of 18º or higher are Porter. regardless of their colour. So, as I've already said here, in Slovakia, Primátor 21% is a Světlý Porter, great, isn't it?

    So, neither the BA nor the BJCP have officially recognised Imperial Pilsner. There's still hope then...

    And yes, if you really want to understand a beer, you must drink it as close to its source as possible...

  7. I guess you mean the tables on this page:

    I have read somewhere, and can't for the life of me remember where, that degrees were usually rounded to the nearest whole number - thus an 11.72 would be rounded up to 12.

    Interesting that the 2004 numbers there are 12 degrees.

    One thing I am sure we shouldn't do though is to confuse the issue by bringing in the Polish "mocne" style of strong lager!! ;)

  8. Actually, the rounding is the opposite, it's rounded down, even if it is 12.9, it'll still be a 12.

    (BTW, Ron confessed me that the 12º for both PU and Budvar, which is also below 12º, were estimates)

  9. I rarely comment on any blog but the issue of beer style never ceases to amuse me and I think something that we all forget on occasion is that we humans like nothing more than to categorise things, the only thing we enjoy more than categorisation is to argue with our peers about who's particular form of categorisation is better.

  10. But this is a great topic to discuss over a pint or five, more interesting and less depressing than politics of football...

  11. After five pints you'd have to be a real nerd to manage to stay on the topic of categorising beer styles! :)


  12. Oh! You'll be surprised how articulate I can still be after five pints. It's at the sixth when things start going downhill...:)

  13. The more categories there are, the more people get to be winners and put those little gold medals on their labels: "Winner Best Brown Ale (Southern English style), Wigan Beer Awards, 2002".

  14. Max Clicks on the "Like" button...

  15. You make a good point about the centrality of competitions in the brew world, and all the pigeon-holing it promotes. It bucks the status quo of most other art forms, such as music or cinema, where the genre-dependent awards ceremonies are considered very much part of the mainstream game. The smallest brewers are generally keen to become involved in largely grassroots brew contests, but they do the same violence we find on the big stage.


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