21 Oct 2011

Names and categories, their importance or lack thereof

The other day I wento to Zlý Časy for a couple of pints. As usual, I opened the session with a good ležák (Tambor 11º, which was more than lovely) to quench my thirst and see what else the other 23 taps had to offer.

While chatting with a couple of the patrons I decided that Žamberk's Sametový Ale would be my next beer (not before seriously considering ordering another pint of Tambor or perhaps one of Mahr's Kellerbier).

Handsome beer it was, it looked very nice in its nonic. A finger-thick, creamy, slightly tanned head, the beer itself, a polotmavý amber colour. Pity I didn't have my camera. But when I got my nose close to the glass, it's "Aleness" wasn't so clear anymore, I got the distinctive clove notes of a weizen, while the flavour reminded me of a dampfbier. The "Sametový" thing was spot on, though. It had a nice, velvety texture ("samet" in Czech means velvet). Far from an Ale, in my books, but far from boring at the same time. I was satisfied.

It was followed by Pauliner, from Třebonice. More than its name, what caught my attention was its description as a "čokoladový weizen". I thought it would have chocolate (extract), but when I read the list of ingredients (what a great idea the beer cards of Aliance P.I.V. are!) I saw that it was actually brewed with chocolate wheat malts. The bloke I was sharing the table with had ordered and wasn't very thrilled, but I still wanted to give it a chance, I trust David, the creator of this beer.

Pauliner is one of the darkest wheat beers I've seen in my life. It's really black and it looks great. Things start going downhill with the nose, there's almost nothing, just a whiff of green apples that doesn't fit it. The promised, or expected, complexity of the malts was noticeable by its absence, there was some roastiness, yes, but far from enough of it and, despite being a 12º with only 4,3 ABV, it felt very thin. I was left thinking that maybe the yeasts that were used weren't the most appropriate, but overall, I was left disappointed.

Beer names and categories tend to generate expectations, and such was the case of both these beers. Pauliner failed because it had none of the things I was expecting, even though I had discarded the presence of any cocoa based product. But I believe I wouldn't have been satisfied even if I had drunk it blind.

Sametový Ale had it a bit easier. "Ale" is a wide category, and I'm excluding all those top fermented beers that are wrongly categorised as Ale. And it still failed to meet the expectations and I still liked it, and when I like what I have in the glass, they can call it or categorise it "Honza" for all I care, it's not my problem after all, and I believe most people don't care, either.

However, there are people (and their number is increasing, and I'm not including here those who would argue whether a beer is an Old Ale or a Barley Wine) who do care, whose judgments will be affected by a beer's failing to meet the expectations generated by its name/category, and not without reason. And that is something brewers should pay attention to when baptising and labeling their creations.

Na Zdraví!

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