20 Feb 2012

Some Monday Musings

Among all the (not only someone else's) silliness that you can see on your Facebook wall, every now and again you can find something interesting, something that makes you think longer than it takes to click "Like it" or write a comment. The FB person called Argentine Beers a couple of days ago made a couple of questions that fit into that category. The fist one (double) goes like this:
"Doesn't it bother you that craft microbreweries call their beers pale, red o black without mentioning the true styles? Why don't they educate the consumers?
What really interests me about this rather tricky double question isn't the answers but what it implies, that brewers are somehow required to brew "styles".

A while ago I was complaining that there were brewers whose focus seemed to be satisfying competition judges rather than the consumer. It turns out the problem goes beyond that, there is a loud minority who believe they are international beer judges every time they sip a pint and therefore, need all beers to fit within their specific mental pigeonholes. This made me remember a comment I read a long time ago in response to a review in, I think, Logia Cervecera, where someone said that the beer in question wasn't a Scottish Ale, but an IPA that didn't come out well, or something like that, even though the label of said beer didn't mention either of the styles! In other words, this person was slamming a brewer for doing wrong something that he never had the intention of doing. Amazing.

But it doesn't end there. The first question says "the true styles". What are true styles? What does Argentine Beers mean with this? The BJCP and their narrow (and sometimes not quite correct) interpretation of some styles and the exaggerated subdivision of others?

There was a time when I thought that the style guidelines were stupid. I was wrong. Its main purpose is to serve as a reference for beer judges and brewers who want to take part in the competitions judged by those judges. In other words, if I was a brewer and I made a beer with Xº Plato, that colour, this many IBU and these or those characteristics, I would know that I'd be able to present it in a given category, say, Belgian-Style Tripel, even if the label said that the style is "Imperial Wit" or "Temistocles Bumhole". So, it's not the document that is stupid, but the idea that some have that it is something like a Talmudic law.

But going to the second question. Does mentioning a style on a label help to educate the consumer?

When I say that I'm a style anarchist I mean that I evaluate a beer based on what I drink and not on what I read. An example of this is Výškov's new IPA, that despite (to me) not being very IPA, is very good and I hope they'll keep on making it like this.

That aside, the truth is that seeing a style on a label does help me have an idea of what the beer could be like. But this, as I've said many times, is a result of my experience as a drinker, experience that has also shown me that some styles can have a wide range of characteristics and that some brewers can interpret them differently.

So, mentioning a style on a label can serve as a guide for the experienced drinker and as a reference point to the novice one. And what about those brewers whose beers don't fit into any style? Duh! They won't put anything. But, what about those whose beers are "inspired" by some style o those whose interpretation of a style differs from the "institutionally" accepted? If they mentioned a style they'd be risking the ire of the BJCPist or even being accused of ripping-off the consumer (I wish I was making that up). For these brewers, then, is better to leave things at "pale", "red" or "black" and let the drinker reach their own conclusions (which it's a lot more fun, actually).

But this has got too long already, there'll be a second part soon.

Na Zdraví!

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15 comments:

  1. I definitely got the impression on my visit that Argentina is plagued with brew-by-numbers disease. Symptoms include "Robust Porter" and "Bohemian Pilsner".

    But what really interested me is that there's a sweetish malt-forward amber ale which a lot of places make and call "IPA". I think there may be a case for "Argentinian IPA" being an actual organic style rather than one dryly created de novo.

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  2. I get very much the same impression from reading what is going on there. One of the people who answered the question said that beers should be creative. I said he was wrong, that beers should be good, but now I understand what he was meaning, that the shouldn't be so much by the numbers....

    ArIPA that style can be called...:)

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  3. Even in the UK some Micro breweries get confused at what is a beer style I have sampled many so called Porters which are really Stouts and sometimes Strong Milds. I have real issues to CAMRA's reference to Golden Beers ehhh what style is a golden beer style ? and in fact when you sample golden beers at a beer festival they come in many colours and diffrent tastes nearly all bitter.

    cwrwhughes

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  4. I have sampled many so called Porters which are really Stouts
    I think the belief that they mean different things in UK brewing is part of the problem. They don't.

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  5. I tend to think there are really only 3 types of beer anyway, pale, amber and dark. Everything else is a variation on one of those themes.

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  6. Classifying beers by their colour has a long history . . . . much longer than all the supposed modern styles.

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  7. @Ron: Yes, but the paleolithic stone age had a much longer history than the beer-making era - I don't buy time span per se as an argument: tyrannic monarchy is the natural state of politics just because it was the normative ruling system for thousands of years? Should we always abide in history as it was? Or do we rather recognize it as fluent, evolving and contantly changing? (As it is, like it or not...)

    Sticking to 19th-century definitions of beer is looking backwards, not forwards. Moreover - and far more importantly - I think endless bickering about beer names and styles will ultimately serve to label beer enthusiasts as navel-gazing geeks of the worst kind. Some might find this kind of obsession kind of charming, while a majority will most likely find it near-repulsive. So get over it.

    Having said that, I do recognize beer styles and categorization in quite a few aspects (some mentioned in the article):

    - As judge guidelines
    - As important historical knowledge and part of the beer heritage (without necessarily commanding the present)
    - As a valid enough hobby for some people (categorization is at the heart of nerd-ism), as long as they don't start yelling at people who don't want to play their game

    I guess I'm with Mr. Filosof on this one, pretty much.

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    1. "ultimately serve to label beer enthusiasts as navel-gazing geeks of the worst kind"

      too late

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  8. There are only two kinds of beer (or anything else): Those that fit snugly into categories. And those that don't.

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    1. only two sides to the war - inside and outside

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  9. I want to see something other that style on the label to help me understand more clearly what is in the bottle. Description words with a function other than PR.

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    1. That makes two of us, and it was basically the point I wanted to make here and will try to make again soon when I publish the second part of this rant.

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  10. That was the name of it! I made fun of Cyclops, too, so maybe I am just a complainer. http://beerblog.genx40.com/archive/2006/august/cyclopsperhaps

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    1. I flirted with Cyclops (hmmm... that sounds kinda kinky) Didn't work out for me, but I in a way I see the point of it and why some brewers think putting Cyclops tasting notes on their labels is a good idea..

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